How I fixed my sciatica pain from a herniated L5/S1 disc.

If you're reading this it is most likely because you either have back pain associated with a disc issue, have chronic lower back pain and aren't sure why, or you have a friend or family member with back pain. 

This page contains a blog I kept from late April 2010 through June 2010 when I was diagnosed with a ruptured (or herniated) L5/S1 disc that resulted in extreme sciatica. The pain was intense and in the beginning surgery seemed like the only fix. Well, I'm here to say, that wasn't necessary!!

Example of what my MRI looked like, notice the blackened L5/S1 disc. The disc has herniated and compressed the spinal column, putting pressure on the sciatic nerve. This results in pain, numbness and weakness. 

It is very important as you read through my timeline to realize that while I was helped, this doesn't necessarily guarantee a fix for everyone. Every anatomy and injury is different. Your body condition and determination to succeed will play a very large role in your recovery, no matter which path you take. 

It is essential that you listen to your care provider and do your own private research. My comments below were derived from nearly two months of constant, daily, research on the topic from medical journals, to doctors blogs to forums. I try to be as comprehensive and accurate in every statistic I give as possible, but please, don't take my word for it. Do your own research, this is your body after all. 

I'm not a doctors, I represent no institution and I am more than willing to ask any questions you have per my own experience and as non-bias as I can. That said, enjoy the reading!

What is Sciatica:

Sciatica causes pain, a burning sensation, numbness, or tingling radiating from the lower back and upper buttock down the back of the thigh to the back of the leg. Severe sciatica can make walking difficult if not impossible. Sometimes the symptoms of sciatica are aggravated by walking or bending at the waist and relieved by lying down.

So what about the pain?

Sciatica is often characterized by the following symptoms:

Pain on one side of the buttock or in one leg that is worse when sitting
Burning or tingling down the leg
Weakness, numbness or difficulty moving the leg or foot
A constant pain on one side of the rear
A sharp pain that may make it difficult to stand up or to walk

So what caused it? A herniated L5/S1 disc

Interesting facts:

- Herniated discs in the lumbar region are very common in active males age 30-40

- At the one and two year mark both surgical and non-surgical treatment have relatively identical results

- Herniated discs take 4-8 weeks to naturally heal

- By their 40's most males have a herniated disc or bulging disc in their lower back. 

- Large numbers of herniated disc have no pain associated with them, in fact, pain is only caused when the disc herniates to an extreme that the nucleus pulposus actually impinges the nerve root in the spinal canal. 

- There are four basic types of treatment: surgery, chiropractic, physical therapy, doing nothing. Depending on the severity of the pain will help choose your course of action.

- Herniated discs will not naturally go away, however they can be naturally relieved and healed.

- The kicker: herniated discs are more common in active (lean body weight) males than overweight males...funny, I've always been told being fat would hurt your back...guess not. 

So what did I do since APR 1 when Sciatica kicked in?

Moving was nearly impossible. I could not walk from the couch to the bathroom without severe pain. At that time I was taking 800mg of Ibuprofen and Extra Strength Tylenol. 

I went to see an Orthopedic doctor a day later. My issues were complicated by the fact that I had a grade 2 tear in my hamstring on my right side, the same side effected by the pain.

Orthopedic gave me steroids to reduce inflammation but no pain killers. I spent a week and a half on steroids in the exact same amount of pain. The Orthopedic this time (now two weeks in) asked me what I had for pain, he finally decided that maybe it was time for a pain killer. He explained that he believed it was my back that was the problem but did not tests. I came back a few days later for my next appointment, the pain killer worked to stop pain but there was no improvement in mobility. I was sent home again with more steroids and again had no tests (MRI or otherwise). At this point, seeing barely any improvement other than lessening of pain because of Vicodin, I went to a different Orthopedic.

Within 5 minutes of seeing me the new Orthopedic ordered an immediate MRI an hour later. Two hours later I had notice that I had a ruptured disc at L5/S1 and two bulging discs. 

The following day I contacted Chiropractic First (a chiropractor in Mount Airy). He immediately called me back at home and setup a time to see me the same day. He viewed my MRI and assessed the damage. He ranked it roughly 7-7.5 out of a 10 scale of severity. His prognosis was that in two weeks I'd be 40% better on his program and in 4 weeks I'd be near 100%. I saw my Orthopedic doctor again and she drew the same diagnosis he did and actually encouraged me to take 2 weeks with a Chiropractor. Apparently I was very lucky. Do to all my weigh lifting over the years and solid heart rate and condition, I was in the top .5% of patients she saw and said that because my muscles still registered 5 out of 5 in performance that I would be a great candidate to self heal. She also mentioned that if it didn't work, the surgery was text-book for me given my physical condition. 

So, I started Chiropractic care Thursday of last week. When I saw the Chiropractor the first day I was on 750mg of Vicodin every 4 hours and could stand for about 5 minutes and could not sit. I laid down in his office while he spoke to me. I have been treated by him 5 times now (remember we started last week). Today I can stand and walk around for about 2 hours before pain sets in, I only need about 10 minutes of rest to get back up and go again. I cleaned up the house, I'm off Vicodin and I can distance of course. So in only 8 days from day one seeing the Chiropractor I have made an incredible recovery, in my eyes. His estimation of two weeks to be 40% better was greatly exaggerated. I feel 40% better now, and it has been 8 days. I'm really hoping that this exponential increase in performance continues so by the end of the 2nd week I'm near 80% better. 

If this success continues, I don't know what I'll have to do for the Chiropractor. He has been amazing. Seriously he is the nicest person in the world, always up beat and constantly reinforces the fact that natural treatment will heal you. God Bless this guy!

May 3, 2010 -

I've now had my 6th Chiropractor visit. The great news is I have about 30-40% more mobility and am officially off any prescription drugs. I have a meeting with an orthopedic surgeon on May 10th, next week, so I'm attempting to get 80% better before then so I can officially say no to surgery. 

I can't wait to get back to work, shooting for May 24th hopefully if all goes well. 

My current symptoms are:

Mid leg pain and light lower back pain (while on 600mg of Ibuprofen) when I walk around for a bit or sit. Duration of walking is about 30minutes-1 hour and sitting is about 10 minutes-15 minutes. 

I spend about 50% of my time down now and 50% up, which is far better than 2 weeks ago when it was 90% down 10% up. Really crossing my fingers that by the end of this week I have even more mobility back.

If you have a back issue, try spinal decompression. That is what I'm doing and having solid success. Read here

May 5, 2010

Ugh, to add to my problems yesterday I was insanely ill. I threw up during the morning and stayed in bed all day. Poor wife had to deal with everything, work and two kids. Today I'm not nearly as sick. Problem is my son and I share the same immune system (nice joke God) so every time he is sick, I'm sick. Two more Chiro treatments this week, today and tomorrow.

Had another treatment today and have one Thursday and Friday. We are hoping for 60% improvement, that would be amazing. Also discussed when surgery would be necessary, the conclusion: only when you have a loss of muscle control. Luckily I'm not in that ballpark.

I was able to stand around and have a chat with the Doc without any noticeable pain and after the decompression, for the first time, I had very minimal hamstring pain.

Some quick tips to avoid doing this to yourself:

- Don't twist to pick things up if you can avoid it. 

The discs in your spine are basically basket-weaves with gel inside. Think of a basket, when you twist and turn it you can make the openings between the weave larger. This is essentially what you do when you turn and bend at the same time. This may be fine for a strong disc but a worn one with weaken and can rupture.

- Chiropractic decompression is 89% effective at re-leaving all disc herniation pain, no matter the severity.

- Discectomy is only 15% effective in the average person. This may not be true for athletes or people in very good physical condition.

- Epidural shots for herniated disc pain are only 50% effective.

- Core strength (back, abs, pelvis) is essential for helping a herniated disc and ensuring you don't re-injure or injure other discs. Physical therapy plays a role here.

- Smoking is essentially the number one thing you can do to break down the discs in your back and make them susceptible to rupture.

- Several professional athletes have had successful discectomies including: Jose Canseco and Randy Johnson. 

- After a successful discectomy you can begin physical rehab usually within 7-10 days.

- Stay hydrated! Discs are mainly comprised of water, less water equates to a more brittle disc, that in turn encourages herniation of a disc. Want to check for dehydration in yourself, check here

Brian Roberts of the Orioles is currently dealing with a herniated disc, see more here

From one Orthopedic Surgeons web site, interestingly enough:

How do you typically treat a herniated disc?
“I will do everything I can to try to treat your condition non-surgically. Almost always, my recommendation is a non-operative treatment plan involving physical therapy, injections, chiropractic care, acupuncture and other non-surgical treatments to try before considering surgery. Most people get better with the non-operative treatment plan.

“If non-surgical treatments don't work for you and you need surgery, you can be assured I will use the latest operative techniques and technology to help you.”

Can a herniated disc get better without surgery?
“Yes. Without treatment, 90% of herniated discs get better over the course of two years. What we're trying to do with chiropractic care, acupuncture, or injections or even physical therapy is to try to buy time, which might help the body fix the problem without surgery. These conservative treatments can help make you comfortable while the body is healing itself.”


More interesting statistics when you're told Surgery is the only way:

Herniated discs that reside in the cervical (neck) and lumbar (back) spine respond positively to conservative treatment, and can sometimes regress or reabsorb. Studies published in both medical and chiropractic journals have shown that 40 percent of cervical spine herniations and 60 percent of lumbar spine herniations resolved without surgical or medical intervention, responding only to conservative care.
Best Chances for Regression
Regression seems to be based on the size, location, and injury phase. Larger herniations in the lumbar spine that are treated shortly after appearing had a better chance of recovery without surgery than smaller herniations.
Mechanisms for Reabsorption
Another study pointed to a reason why the herniated discs seemed to be regressing. It appears as though the body begins to treat the damaged disc and its contents as a foreign invader, sending white blood cells to begin breaking it down.

By the age of 12 the human body stops sending a permanent blood supply to the discs in your spine, instead the discs are supplied by movement that allows nutrients to get to the discs and particles to be removed.

May 6, 2010

Coolest thing today, laying around I felt my right heel start tingling. This went for about 20 seconds. After which I have almost FULL feeling back! WOOHOO.

May 7, 2010

It is Friday and I'm thinking I'm about 45-50% improved since day one being down. I'm able to walk around for a bit, chat, drive a little bit. Trying to prep myself for returning to work. I have a desk job and a 40 minute commute. So far I'm testing how long I can sit before pain sets in. Today I was able to drive to the Chiropractor and then from there head home, head right back out to go to a store where I walked around for a while then go to another store, where I sat in the truck. Pain started to set in about 2 hours after I initially left the house. This is exceptional considering 3 weeks ago I couldn't sit in a car.

This is a great sermon my pastor did a few Sunday's back, really helped during my small bouts of depression over the last month:

Sermon MP3

May 8, 2010

Today was a wonderful day, I was able to be outside and walk around most of the morning. From about 7:30am--1:00pm I was up and about. Actually sat at the table to eat lunch. Relaxing now with 3 out of 10 pain, which is basically just throbbing annoyance more than anything else. Definitely an improvement over last weekend. Really hoping by next weekend that I can mow the yard :)

I'm going to try to go to church tomorrow, an hour of sitting/standing should be an interesting test. Also going to try to drive around a bit more, testing that 40 minute commute drive time. Still shooting for the 24th to go back to work. 

We had our Tempurpedic bed delivered today, hoping that helps heal and prevent injury in the future. 

One note though: I HATE TEMPURPEDIC pillows! Talk about a pain in the neck.

May 9, 2010

Today is about the same as yesterday. But the kicker, actually went to church (first time in a month). Not saying it was 'easy' and eventually I had to drive home because the pain kicked in. However, I was able to stand in the front of the Church and be part of Dawkin & Morgans dedications, what a great moment.

Oh today was also the first day since April 1st, that I wore dress clothes. Shoes were hard to tie, but actually the socks were the hardest part.

May 11, 2010

Pushed off my surgeon visit till May 21st, figure if I'm not good to go (80%) by then, then something else needs to happen (I'd lean towards an epidural shot).

Had a good day, wife is sick but I got to take my son to school and see him for parents appreciation day (about 15 minutes worth). Very fun to be part of his experience.

May 12, 2010

Reducing inflammation with your diet, instead of or along with OTC pills or natural pills:

Pro-inflammatory foods will increase inflammation, increase your pain from the inflammation and may also raise your risk for chronic disease. Loading up on junk foods, high-fat meats, sugar and fast foods will increase inflammation in your body. This is partially due to the unhealthy fats used in preparing and processing these foods, especially trans fats and saturated fats. Processed meats such as lunch meats, hot dogs and sausages contain chemicals such as nitrites that are associated with increased inflammation and chronic disease.
Saturated fats are also found in meats, dairy products and eggs. While all of these foods are important source of minerals and vitamins, you don't need the extra saturated fat. These foods also also contain fatty acids called arachidonic acid. While some arachidonic acid is essential for your health, too much arachidonic acid in the diet may make your inflammation worse. Be sure to choose low fat milk and cheese and lean cuts of meat, which will not promote inflammation.

Diets high in sugar have also been associated with inflammation, obesity and chronic disease such as diabetes. Eliminate high sugar foods such as sodas, soft drinks, pastries, pre-sweetened cereals and candy.

Another possible source of irritation comes from the nightshade family of plants. Whole fruits and vegetables are important to eat for their vitamins, minerals, and natural antioxidants. However some vegetables like potatoes, tomatoes, and eggplant may actually make pain from inflammation worse. These vegetables are part of the nightshade family of plants and contain a chemical alkaloid called solanine. Solanine can trigger pain in some people. While there isn't any formal research findings that back the claim about nightshade plants, some people believe they get relief from the symptoms of pain and inflammation.

The gist of the anti-infam food role is as follows:


- avoid nitrates (found in most processed meats)
- avoid some vegetables, like potatoes or tomatoes
- avoid sugar and high sugar food or drink


- fruit
- cold water oily fish (OMEGA-3 Fish Oil) 
- walnuts, flax or pumpkin seeds
- canola oil 
- olive oil is amazing at reducing inflammation as well as promoting heart health and aiding the body in reducing pain sensations.

May 13, 2010

Had a pretty good day today. Got to go grocery shopping and actually sat in a chair for nearly an hour with no real issue. Last night I started some simple back exercises to strengthen and loosen my back muscles. 

Essentially the workout went like this:

Laying flat on my back with my arms out on the floor and legs straight out (basically in the shape of a cross on the floor), I slowly lift my legs up and retract my knees as close to my chest as possible concentrating on my glutes, abs and back muscles. I then release my legs slowly, straightening them and lowering them to the floor. I do this about 5 or 6 times and hold it for as long as comfortable.

Next, still on the floor, I bring my legs up so my feet are on the floor but my knees are arched. I then twits my legs/hips to the right and hold, then to the left and hold. I do this about 5-6 times.

Finally I lay on my back with my knees up and feet on the floor (just as before) but this time I grab behind my left knee and pull it to my left shoulder, then I do the right leg to right shoulder.

The first time I did these it felt tight afterwards, but this morning all was pretty good. I now have slightly more bend/flexibility then two days ago.

I'm using Bio Freeze ( now instead of any other muscle rub. Bio Freeze utilized 3.5% Menthol as an active ingredient as opposed to BenGay or Icy/Hot which only uses 2.5%

I have to say I'm comfortably 60% better now. Really hoping the next few decompressions push me over the top. Really found some inspiring blogs:

1) Woman, 33, had a herniated disc and bad sciatic issues (like me). She was told surgery was her only option. She did decompression first. At the 11 visit she felt like it was pointless with no relief, but on the 12 trip she started to notice different sensations. On the 15th trip she woke up the next morning to no pain at all. Amazing.

May 19, 2010

Update: about 70% better now. Through about 14 decompressions and I have to say I'm really surprised how fast things improved. I was able to go to church over the weekend for about 2 hours, then today I was able to be out relatively pain free for a few more hours. Very encouraged. 

I've found that water and correct eating habits seem to really be helping. I've also started light work on my elliptical machine which gave me no real pain.

I have also been getting massages done on my lower back and legs to help relieve muscle tension along with using BIOFREEZE to relieve any muscle pain. Things are moving forward. 

I'm down to about 6 Ibuprofen a day, I was taking 12 a day when I originally came of Vicodin a few weeks back. Hoping to be off Ibuprofen by late next week. 

I have greatly increased my intake of OMEGA-3 Fish Oil, which naturally reduces inflammation. I think it is doing great. 

Hope to do my testimonial for my Chiropractor in the coming months.

May 21, 2010

Met with the Neurosurgeon today, his exact words:

At this time I see no need for surgery or epidural shots

Woohoo! He said with the improvement I've shown over 4 weeks that there is no reason to believe I will not fully recover on my own. He said the only reason to do spinal surgery is to: remove pain, neurological function or muscular function. I have to say as spine docs go the two I found have been great. They are very supportive of non-surgical healing. 

He also said, given my recovery time, he sees no reason why I couldn't be at work in two weeks. My fingers are crossed!!

May 27, 2010

God bless, the past few days have been great. Nearly all my pain is gone, probably the most pain I get is around a 1-2 and Aleve or Ibuprofen can handle that without hassle. 

I was able to be on the road and out all day for the last two days, starting work again on June 7th. Can't believe the journey but I've learned a lot!!

Going to try the Elliptical and some pushups to try to prime for working out again, modified of course as to not re-injure my disc.

June 1, 2010

Latest news. I go back to work next week!! After being officially out 2 months, my pain is down to about a 1 or 2 at most when doing normal day to day activities. I'm not yet recovered enough mobility wise to really get back to my active lifestyle but my pain recovery is about 85-90% and my mobility is about 70%. My only remaining pain is found in the upper part of my hamstring. This was the first place I felt pain over 2 months ago, so it makes sense that it will be the last to heal. I really can't say enough about Chiropractic First (my Chiropractor) and the help of spinal decompressions. A month and a half ago I thought life as I knew it was over, I have found that is not the case!!

June 5, 2010

Going to work for the first time in 2 months, in two days. Can't wait. I'm about 85-90% recovered from the pain of my herniated disc and torn hamstring. I have started my own stretching routine which is geared towards loosening my Piriformis and Hamstring muscles. My therapy person noticed that my Piriformis was 'knotted' which is most likely what is causing me the little pain I feel when I get up from the sitting position in my right buttock. My hamstring has smoothed out which is a good sign that it is healing. 

I've also continued to drink about a gallon of water a day as well as take 4000mg of fish oil and 2000mg of Glucosomine. My warm-up/stretch routine includes: stretches for hamstring, sitting piriformis stretches, 100 push-ups and 5 minutes or so on the Elliptical machine. All of which I can do pretty much without any sciatic pain. The only pain I generally feel is from the tight muscles on my right side from being laid out for so long.

I meant to add, I also try to do a mile walk each day to loosen the muscles and reacquire my normal gate when I walk. 

And the Piriformis muscle is the strongest of the hip muscles and controls the 'twisting' motion of the femur. So when I compensated all of March for my torn hamstring, I was over-using my piriformis, which resulted in the knots.

June 9, 2010

So I've been at work for about a week now and I'm about 90% recovered. I'm estimating that by July I'll be around 100% again.  I stand for about 6.5 hours at work and have a 45 minute commute and I am able to do this with no pain pills at all and have very minimal dull pain from my SI joint, not my back. I can't sing the praises enough of Chiropractic First and Chiropractic care, truly amazing!