Sciatica Stories: Different People, Different Paths

Living with sciatica? Learn how 4 people reduced their pain from this condition

Anyone who’s been to the doctor to get help for sciatica knows that numerous treatments for this condition are available. Often, it’s a matter of trial and error to find one that works for you. Will physical therapy help? Should you ask for an injection? Is surgery ever the answer? We asked four people with sciatica what worked for them. Here are their stories.

4 people managing sciaticaRead about how four people took control of their sciatica in different ways.

Eriq Believes Relief from Pain Starts with Self Care

A bad fall in April 2021 left Eriq Chang, a visual designer who lives in the Bay Area of California, with more than a broken pelvis and broken right foot. “I was in the hospital for a couple of days, but when I came home, I was hobbling,” he recalls. “I realized that I had developed sciatica.”

Eriq was in a lot of pain but decided to try to fall back on a treatment that had helped him manage his chronic migraines: yoga. He especially likes hot yoga and continued his hot yoga sessions in spite of the pain. For others in pain, his advice is this: Just don’t sit still.

“You can’t be stagnant and just sit,” he says. “You have to constantly believe in yourself, and your pain will subside. I don’t like pain to live with me. I believe that you need to deal with your pain and move on.”

Eriq, who is the creative director at Encoding.com and creative director at Eriq Chang Studio, also feels that eating well helps keep the sciatica pain at bay. He starts each day with a homemade green smoothie, and continues to sip one of these smoothies throughout the day. He follows a plant-based diet, and for the most part, embraces a vegan lifestyle.

“Inflammation is a big deal when it comes to pain,” he says. “I ate ice cream and cake last night, and today I had a lot of pain.”

He also feels that stress contributes to back pain. “And anything you feel pain-wise is amplified when you are in a bad mood,” he says. “My advice is to move your body. Intentional movement is so important. And follow a vegetarian diet. Vegetables heal everything.”

Medication and a Topical Cream Are Helping Joseph

Joseph Flores, 66, a married dad of three grown children, is pretty sure he knows how his sciatica developed. In January 2021, he decided to insulate his garage.

“My body was twisting and turning, I was contouring my body every which way to put the stuff up,” he recalls. “I think that triggered my sciatica.”

A week after putting up the insulation, he developed excruciating pain that worsened over the following few weeks. “I would wake up at midnight and 2 in the morning wanting to cry it was so severe,” he said. “My doctor gave me oral steroids. Long story short, it didn’t do anything at all.”

 

Joseph is managing his sciaticaA multi-pronged approach to treating sciatica is working well for Joseph.

By now it was March 2021, Joe could barely sit down, and he was prescribed Vicodin (hydrocodone/acetaminophen).

“The doctor had given me 40 pills and I took if for a week and a half,” he recalls. “It took all the pain away but when I stopped taking it, the pain came right back. That was when I realized the Vicodin was only masking the pain. I decided to only use it when the pain was excruciating. I tried not to take it too often because I was worried about getting an addiction.”

He tried a chiropractor, massage, acupuncture and cupping, physical therapy. If it was a nonsurgical sciatica treatment, Joe probably tried it. “But I wasn’t feeling any real relief from any of it,” he recalls.

Joe went to a pain management doctor, who ordered an X-ray and an MRI that revealed nothing remarkable. “The doctor told me my whole spine is great, nothing wrong with it,” Joe says. The pain management doctor gave him an injection in the piriformis area and, later, an epidural steroid injection. Still nothing.


Then Joe’s primary care doctor prescribed gabapentin, an anti-epilepsy drug that’s known to help some cases of back pain. “Most of my major pain has gone, and I believe it’s from the gabapentin and the weekly deep massages I get,” he says. “Things are looking up but it has been a very slow process.”

He also uses CBD cream with arnica. “This cream definitely deadens the pain,” he says. “It is still extremely difficult to drive. But during the day, as long as I stand up and walk around, I am fine.”

Epidural Injections Are Working for Cindy

Cindy Rena Naylor Stegall was already living with chronic pain—from arthritis, migraines, and fibromyalgia—when she added sciatica to the mix in January 2020. Soon, the Monroe, North Carolina resident found it hard even to get into her car, to empty the dishwasher.

According to Cindy, neither a nerve ablation nor physical therapy were effective at relieving her pain. But then her doctor made another suggestion.

“The doctor started talking to me about getting an epidural,” she recalls. “I wanted to research them a little. You hear the word ‘epidural’ and you think it’s what you have when you are going to have a baby. Turns out it is not the same at all.”

The injection that Cindy’s doctor was suggesting included a steroid medication called a corticosteroid (which is an anti-inflammatory), along with an anesthetic medication. They don’t always work and even if they relief is temporary and the injection needs to be repeated, but they also can provide significant relief from pain. Cindy decided to give it a try.

“I went in at the end of March (2021) and I had the epidural done,” she recalls. “I got a little bit of relief at first, but the pain came back. But after a month and a half, I began to feel more relief. Since I haven’t done anything else different, I think the relief was from the shot.”

The pain is not entirely gone, she says. “I am feeling better but I still have some pain,” she says. “I asked the doctor, and he told me that different patients take different amounts of time for it to work.”  Cindy is scheduled to have another epidural injection in June 2021, and hopes to be in even less pain soon.

Surgery Gave Clayton His Life Back

Clayton, a 50-year-old Navy veteran, was no stranger to back pain – or to back surgery. After living with chronic back pain ever since he joined the Navy, Clayton (last name withheld at his request) had undergone a laminectomy (in which doctors remove a portion of the vertebra) in 1998 and a fusion in 2004 that permanently connected the discs in his back from L5 to S1. Things had been going well until 2019, when the Texas resident developed sciatica.

Laid off from his desk job, he was working on ranches, taking care of horses and lifting heavy feed bags. “I just battled through the pain, thinking it would go away,” he says. “But in the last six months to a year, the pain got so bad I had to stop working. I needed a cane to get out of my chair. Friends told me I was starting to walk like a 90-year-old man.”

Clayton also had lost feeling in a couple of his toes by the time he had an MRI at a VA Hospital in Texas. In May 2021, he had another fusion, and surgeons also repaired a broken screw from his earlier fusion.

“I can no longer say, I have a screw loose,” jokes Clayton. “But they think the surgery went well and they said as long as I am not stupid, I should be okay.”

By “stupid,” Clayton says, he means that he should not be doing a lot of heavy lifting going forward. While he is still in pain, he feels that it is much less than it was before the surgery. “I still have the pains but it is not as intense,” he says. “Everything is very stiff but I am better than I was.”

While he recovers, Clayton is on short-term disability and is scheduled to return to work in August 2021. But he worries that the heavy lifting that is required for his warehouse job will cause him to injure his back again. “My job involves lifting and being on my feet for 10 hours at a time,” he says. “The doctor told me, you’re not young anymore and you need to think of a new career.”

 Still, he is feeling very positive about his recent surgery. “I am sure I will still have some issues, but I will be okay, especially if I find work I can do without pain,” Clayton says. “If I ever do get to retire, I want to be able to have some sort of enjoyment of life.” 

Updated on: 06/16/21
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Sciatica Self-care: 5 At-home Remedies for Low Back and Leg Pain
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Sciatica Self-care: 5 At-home Remedies for Low Back and Leg Pain

These 5 at-home sciatica therapies are good options for people who recently started experiencing sciatic nerve pain or whose low back and leg pain is not severe.
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