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Skiing with Sciatica

post #1 of 15
Thread Starter 
Well, apparently I have sciatica. For the last three weeks I've been struggling with a sore low back, sharp pain in my right hip, and numbness & weakness in my lower right leg. Two weeks ago I missed three days of work because I could barely walk and only this weekend was I able to walk with a limited limp. My chiropractor is confident that I'll have a complete recovery, but I've talked to two individuals in the last week who have had the same problem and are living with pain and continued numbness in their feet; each one says their big toe on the right foot stays numb. This is discouraging and disconcerting especially when I think about cold toes in ski boots coupled with pre-existing numbness...seems like a bad mixture for skiers. Though it's the end of August, I see the ski season peaking around the corner and this injury has really put a damper on my physical conditioning prep. So, I'm looking for some support. I presume that there are many who have experienced sciaitca - it seems to be pretty common especially for those of us hitting our 40s. Who out there has successfully recovered from this and is able to ski? What therapy and/or exercises did you find most helpful? How long until you were able to get back into a good workout routine? Thanks much and think snow!
post #2 of 15

Sorry to hear that.

 

Sciatica has an excellent prognosis.  Most people improve spontaneously within 6 weeks.  Rest and NSAIDs will probably help.  Physical therapy is often used but the orthopedic guys I know tell me it's never been proven to make a difference. 

 

Chances are you'll be back to normal by ski season.

post #3 of 15
Thread Starter 
Thanks hirustler, your words are encouraging. I am trusting in The Lord to help me through this and get ready for a great 2013-14 ski season. We're hoping to make a trip out to Vail in February with a group of friends from work...here's hoping. God bless.
post #4 of 15

I have a history of low back pain and manage to keep it at bay these days, possibly due to regular exercises for back muscle strengthening. Maybe your physio or other professional can give you some suitable workouts? Good luck - hope it works out well.

post #5 of 15

I spent a year with chronic Sciatica.  I got it in late November.  I had very little work to do and spent my time for several weeks playing games and surfing EpicSki on my laptop while slouching in one bar stool with my feet up on another bar stool.  Then it snowed a bit over a foot and I went out and shoveled it.  Surprise...  I messed my back up!  The real surprise was that it didn't get better, it kept getting worse.  

 

I started skiing every day and the pain was intense.  I really had no choice about the skiing, I needed the money after not working much for about 6 weeks and took all the lessons I could get with a smile that felt to me more like a grimace.  This turned out to be the year that I got moved up to the upper level line-up.  Of course I was thrilled when I checked my schedule early in the season and saw nothing but uppers for the whole year, but my back was really messed up.  I didn't want to say anything because I needed the work and I was getting what I had wanted from the very start and didn't know if I could get back there if I gave it up to teach less physical beginner lessons.  I was a L1 at the time and knew that there were people "above" me who wanted that spot.

 

I learned very quickly that skiing bumps sucks with sciatica.  The good news is that because of the pain, I learned how to more actively absorb terrain and how to find a "softer" line through black and double black off-piste runs.  I got a lot smoother and people noticed.  I don't recommend doing this as a way to learn to ski smoother, but it worked for me...  Kind of.  My back never would get better because I couldn't stop skiing because I truly needed the money.

 

The pain was a shooting fiery jet that would start in my lower back and shoot down my left leg to my ankle and back.  I also had pain shooting up my back and down my left arm.  I had real trouble sleeping and getting out of bed in the morning or up from a chair.  It hurt to take dump or even fart...  I fart a lot...  Ask my wife.  It was hard to walk.  Somehow I kept skiing even though it really wasn't fun anymore and downplayed everything to my supervisors.

 

I went the chiropractor a few times and he was able to fix me to the point that the shooting pains in the upper half of my body went away.  There was no substantive change for the lower body.  I went to the MD and he gave me drugs.  Good drugs.  Soma and Vicoden.  I could take a Soma with a beer or two lie down flat on the floor and feel like I was melting into it.  The problem was that the pills quickly lost effectiveness and they are both very addictive.  Later on the doctor gave me Prednisone.  That stuff felt awesome on the first few days.  My body felt warm and squishy, lubricated, there was no pain.  I wanted to feel like that everyday for the rest of my life.  After a few days that wore off and I felt yucky and the pain came back.  I went to an acupuncturist.  I really, really hate needles, but I was past desperate.  It helped some, but the pain would always come back full force after a few days.  I took a lot of OTC NSAID.  At one point when I was back to see the doctor for more drugs, he did an exam and couldn't get the left knee to reflexively kick.  He also noticed a marked decrease in strength in my left leg.  He told me I had a "real" problem and started talking about referring me to a surgeon.  

 

Eventually the ski season ended.  I decided to go to Snowbird to take my L2 teaching exam.  I drove down in the morning of, got lost, and was late.  In the parking lot I took a bunch of pills (Prednisone, Vicoden, and Soma) thinking that if I could block the pain and move it would help me.  The mountain that day in April was a sheet of ice and I was very uncomfortable skiing on it.  One of the examiners was very nice, the other one kept jabbing at me about how my skiing didn't look to be up to the L2 standard.  I got sick of it and basically told her to "Fuck Off", that I was there for the teaching test and my skiing was fine.  I think it was the Prednisone talking.  I had easily passed the L2 skiing test my first year teaching, my skiing has always been strong.  At the end of the day I knew I hadn't passed.  After waiting for results for over two hours I went home.  When the results came in the mail I was a little surprised to find I had "failed" in every single category.  They didn't like anything I said or did that day.  I blamed it on the pills and thought about all the days that season that I had taken some sort of prescription pain killer before teaching a lesson.

 

The chronic pain continued all through the summer.  I kept working because I had to and rested as much as I could.  When fall started to come, I knew that I couldn't endure another ski season, but I still needed the job.  I started going to a guy who specialized in "Assisted Isolated Stretching".  He would strap me to a table and physically stretch my legs and lower back.  The results were slow in coming.  At a certain point in the therapy he assigned me some stretching and strengthening exercises for my core that I should do at home several times a day.  These were really the key.  We started to get much more noticeable results from every office session.  About one year to the day after the chronic pain began, it suddenly ended.  I am very careful about my posture these days.  The pain hasn't come back.  I'm still teaching upper level ski lessons almost every day all winter long.  Truly the more active I am the better I feel.  I have a good supply of prescription drugs, but never take them and don't need them now.

 

I couldn't stretch effectively while my back was spasming.  I got nothing from it but more pain.  I needed the professional help.  It would seem like I had a herniated disc that was causing the Sciatica.  For me the answer was stretching and strengthening, not drugs or spinal manipulation.  Those things helped in the short term, but the effects always wore off.

post #6 of 15

I was diagnosed with a mild case of it in '92.  My Ortho at the time told me to quit sitting on my wallet.  Most guys sit on their wallets, and so did I.  I quit, and that has helped more than any single thing I've done.  I was shocked at how much it helped!  It seldom bothers me now.

 

If you haven't already, get an MRI to make sure it's not a herniated disc.  The symptoms can be exactly the same, but steroid injections can help that.  If it gets bad enough (as mine did this Spring), surgery can remove the disc herniation.  Other than dope, acupuncture helped the most up until I had it cut out.

 

So, PT like others have said, and don't sit on anything in your back pockets.

post #7 of 15

Hi LEMII,

 

If you ask around (which you are), you will find a gazillion people with sciatica. The important thing is to find people who are still skiing with it. I won't give you my whole story (you can read some of it in another thread I started about "herniated disc. . . ", but everyone's case is different so you should not necessarily do comparisons), but the important thing is that you will probably be able to ski for a long time despite whatever is going on in your back.

 

You should have it checked to see if it is a herniated disc. I am in the medical field and have to say that I am scared by the possibility of a chiropractor manipulating my body without being able to see what is actually going on there. Having made it through foot drop and being 99% recovered, I don't want anyone doing anything which could potentially cause further nerve damage by moving a disc into the path of a nerve instead of away from it. I am very blessed to have an excellent sports medicine doctor who babied me through my "issues" and kept me from surgery, and from surgeons who are also athletes and know how important sports are to me - even at the old age of 55, where back and other orthopedic issues seem to keep adding up!

 

If it is a herniated disc, there are statistics saying that something like 96 or 97% of them resolve spontaneously on their own within a year (and others much sooner that that, starting at about six weeks). If not, you might be a candidate for a "simple" procedure such as the one which Skierish mentioned (the injections, I mean, though I too have heard of the wallet problem!). If you have additional "issues" such as I do with an unstable back, you might need a fusion as a last resort. Even if you did have a fusion, you would still be able to ski.

 

But I have thus far avoided a fusion (which sometimes requires additional fusions down-the-line, so it is REALLY last resort for me and other active people), and have managed to ski just fine. My second and third toes (and part of the big toe) have remained numb for the past two years. When I first put on my ski boots, I ask myself how a stone could have gotten into my boot, which is what my toes feel like to me! I sometimes take off my boot and re-adjust my socks to make sure that it isn't a sock seam which I am feeling. But once I remind myself that it is just my toes, I carry on and don't really notice it the rest of the day. I trust the toes on my "good" foot to tell me if my toes are getting too cold! I keep a good tummy tuck (ab muscles tightened) the whole time I am skiing, as one surgeon told me that one should never rely on those external store-bought "girdle" back supports, but on our core internal muscles, to support the back during activity.

 

Find yourself a really good sports physical therapist (recommended by the really good sports medicine doc which you find) and learn a lot about core strenthening. I never let a day go by without doing at least 80 crunches, done carefully in a way taught by my PT. I am to tickled not to have to wear an AFO brace on my ankle anymore, and even though I often have some minimal pain (back, leg) which comes and goes, I am blessed to be back doing the things I love.

 

When I was so worried two years ago about how this was all going to resolve (when I was having pretty much the symptoms which you are having now), I finally decided that if there was a good chance that my bad symptoms would get better in one year, I could resign myself to sitting on the couch for one year and offer my pain up to someone else's misery (cancer, whatever) in some sort of spiritual offering. Funny thing is, at about that time, the symptoms started to get better after six weeks. . . . Last year, I only had to wear the AFO for about two months, and despite freaking out about it at the time, I remembered the lesson about patience, and counted my blessings. These days, I am feeling pretty blessed in general!

 

Best of luck to you, LEMII! Get some good exercises, and you'll be back on the slopes by snowfall!

 

Kitty

post #8 of 15

I have ankylosing spondylitis, which has side effects like sciatica.  Import things to do, 1) see a good chiro to make sure your joints are in alignment 2) see a good physio to get specific exercises - piriformis stretch, strong core (very important), 3) stay active and 4) use either nsaids or ice or combo to help deal with the inflammation.  The other thing I do, is get on my inversion table almost every single day.  that 5 minutes of spinal decompression really helps.   

post #9 of 15
Thread Starter 
Wow, I am really grateful for all the responses and encouragement that you provided. By God's grace I am doing much better. The pain in my low back and SI joint is almost completely gone and I am able to walk with very little pain. My right foot still has some numbness in the big toe and my right shin is still weak, though this too is improving. My chiropractor took x-rays and these clearly showed subluxation between my L3, L4, and L5. He is pretty thorough and uses the Gonstead method of spinal manipulation, not relying on a lot of twisting. He is confident that the issue is in the nerve between L5 and S1.

I am in the midst of healing process and am probably my own worst enemy in that I am so anxious to get back into the gym with some weight training. Right now I am relegating myself to walking on level ground and swimming. I just started using a large rubber band to exercise the right shin...hopefully that will speed up the healing in it. I want to drop about 20 pounds before the season starts, in the Southeast that's usually mid to late December, so I do have some time. I know that I need to control my appetite, especially for breads, pies, and other high-carb foods, in order to realize my goal.

If I were not feeling so much better I would have pursued other options. I did see my family doctor and the meds he gave me helped a good bit. I will look into a good sports medicine doc and pursue some physical therapy after reading the accounts of others in this thread. I hope to get some good exercises to help strengthen my core without stressing the disks in the back.

I know that The Lord allowed this to come into my life for a reason; I just hope I can be as much of an encouragement to others as you all have been to me.

Again, thanks for taking the time to read and respond! Gotta go.
post #10 of 15

I too had a herniated disk.  L5 I think it was.  Losing weight and core/stretching exercises were both key to my recovery.  I went to a chiropractor who said my spine was crooked and I needed to come in 3 times a week for the next 6 months and, oh, by the way, do you have insurance? I never went back to him.  Orthopedist took X-rays and MRI said I could be operated on but might be able to heal without surgery.  I was given prednisone and percoset and the pain was so bad I asked for ambien so I could get some sleep.  I sat an entire ski season out as well. Reading medical journal articles I found that those who had surgery very often had a recurrence a few years down the road while those who fixed the problem through PT and regular stretching/exercise more often had no recurring problems.  I still work on keeping my weight down and I believe that core exercises (pilates) really help take the stress off my back and also help tremendously with my ski fitness.  Good luck.

 

I forgot swimming.  I hate swimming for exercise but it did wonders for getting my back back.  My right leg was so much weaker than my left that I kept on turning right when swimming laps.

post #11 of 15
Thread Starter 
Did any of you have "foot drop" along with your back issues? My right shin is weak as a result of this issue and when I plant my right foot, it doesn't roll like my other foot, but flaps. I'm hoping that this too will eventually go away.

I did make an appointment with a sports medicine PA for next week...hopefully he'll be able to get me set up with some physical therapy that will help.

Thanks again.
post #12 of 15

HI LEMII,

 

Yes, I had foot drop. You can read my old post from over a year ago:

 

http://www.epicski.com/t/112917/herniated-disc-dropped-foot-spondylolisthesis

 

I am happy to say that I have very little residual from the foot drop. By last winter, seven months after the foot drop started, I was hopping into my ski boots just fine (as easily as anyone ever "hops" into ski boots). It is ever so slightly weaker than the "good" foot, and sometimes if I "trot" to the mailbox or my car or whatever, I have to remind myself to pay attention that it is picking up well - and it pretty much does. My gait is entirely normal (and no AFO brace for over a year) for all intents and purposes. I am very blessed!

 

If you are in danger of tripping over your foot and don't (yet?) have an AFO, here is a little quick fix which I ordered online and made a big difference in allowing me to walk safely (and normally) until I got my AFO:

 

http://www.x-strap.com/catalog/Foot_Drop-1-1.html

 

Many times, foot drop heals on its own. I was told that I had maybe a fifty percent chance of its healing on its own without back surgery, and a fifty percent chance of its healing WITH back surgery. I know that sometimes surgery can also cause foot drop. So I took my chance and did lots of PT for my back AND for leg strengthening (making the muscles remind the nerves how to work by making the ankle TRY to lift up my toes, even when it didn't want to lift up my toes and I could barely see movement).

 

Swimming was really helpful to me, and I make sure to always keep my abs tensed up while swimming, to make sure that my back stays supported. One doctor told me that swimming on my back might be better, but I feel more in alignment when I am on my front. Everyone is different.

 

I lost about 5 or 6 pounds two years ago after my first back "episode". After the foot drop last year, it scared me so much, thinking that my mobility (and active lifestyle) might be permanently altered, that I have lost another 17 or 18 pounds. I eat sensibly and remind myself how lucky I am that I am doing well and enjoying doing everything which I want to do. Not to say that I don't have a little sundae or chocolate now and then! Sometimes it's all about portion control, and avoiding mindless eating. I caught myself doing that the other day when someone brought pastries into the office, and I was eating one while talking to someone, and by the time I was 7/8 finished with the pastry, I realized that I had hardly tasted it, due to gabbing away! What a waste of good calories! It's really hard to lose weight sometimes when you have to stop your physical activities, so be patient with yourself. I am lucky that when I am stressed out, I don't eat much, and back problems do stress one out!

 

Oh, be careful about weightlifting, and other lifting. One spine surgeon (and probably more would have agreed with him) told me that of all of the activities I asked him about (sports such as skiing, swimming, biking, canoeing, etc, and outdoor activities such as gardening), I could pretty much go back to enjoying them all without any problem, but the biggest thing I should avoid would be shoveling. Specifically snow shoveling, which is very heavy work for your back, but I have also tried to be very careful with gardening work involving a shovel. Those actions, similar to sports weight-lifting (such as full or partial dead lifts and upright rows), are hard on your back, and I sometimes wonder if my own weightlifting past didn't come back to haunt me. Or not!

 

Good luck with everything, and hang in there. Think positive!

 

Kitty

post #13 of 15

I've had sciatica and some chronic back pain for over 4 years on and off. I never seem to get back pain in one place at a time I always seem to get pain in many parts of my back when it acts up. I tries lots of conventional expensive stuff, never had epidural I must admit, all with only moderate success.

I am a fan of Chiropractors and use a very good one, but "chiropractor adjustments" (as they call them) don't really help sciatica from my experience. But they do help me sometimes with back pain.

Proper stretching on a regular basis give me incredible relief. I could start describing how to do stretches really good stretches here but without pictures my descriptions would sound funny. This helped me the most
http://backhealers.org/ should help give you guidance.

One thing I have learned is that if you want to get better you have to so the work, no pint in going to a physical therapist or a chiropractor if you don't do what they tell you... there is no magic bullet!

post #14 of 15
Thread Starter 

First, thank you to all who responded with encouragement and advice; and thank too to those who shared their own stories and experiences.  I am very thankful to God for a complete recovery.  I started back with jogging some and hit the weights a couple of weeks ago.  The foot drop is gone as is the numbness.  Now I just need to drop about 10-15 pounds before I hit the slopes....

 

Thanks again and think big snow!!!

post #15 of 15

as posted up front; statistically it will get better in 8 weeks or it won't regardless of what you do. I ended up having a Minimally Invasive Microdiscectomy several years back and it was a complete success.  I would make stretching and core strengthening a daily part of your life now.  Keep in mind the sciatica is due to a nerve compression; it can be caused by several different factors so as long as whatever was touching your nerve is no longer touching it that's a good thing. However, I would use the good sense god gave you and be proactive to help prevent a occurrence. As TPJ pointed out, bumps are not your friend right now so ease back into skiing to see if the spine can withstand the forces you will be putting on it. 

 

good luck! 

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