Rehabilitating Sciatica From Herniated L4 and Spinal stenosis

I was diagnosed with a herniated L4 disk and mild spinal stenosis late January 2020. I had been experiencing hip pain and weakness in my left leg/buttock off and on for some time, plus trouble balancing in yoga positions. I dismissed it all to middle age and peri-menopause.

[With 20/20 hindsight] 3 years ago i fell playing football with my son. In the process i pulled my hamstring; i didn’t (stupidly) get an MRI because i knew what to do to heal it. And heal it i did, in 6 weeks. I made a video on how i healed it, and I am glad i did, because it has helped a lot of people. Here is the video:

Little did i know at that time that i [most probably] herniated a disk … Since i didn’t take the time to get an MRI, i’ll never know for sure, but since then, particularly when travelling; my hip would flare up; (i blamed it on my psoas), and a year ago around Easter 2019 my back “went out.” Weird things i’d never had before. I still blamed it on middle age.

Every time a flare-up happened i did “my routine” of exercises and always nurtured it back to health. It worked every time – until it didn’t work anymore. The straw that broke the camels back was a group exercise class i attended mid-January 2020 where i used heavier dumbbells than i’m used to and did exercises i normally stay away from. It broke me. I was in severe pain after that class. Excruciating pain in my left hip/buttock and down my leg. I went to my GP, she prescribed an MRI and a week later got diagnosed with a herniated L4 disk and mild spinal stenosis.

That explains it!! The herniated L4 disk presses on the sciatic nerve and this is what has been causing the hip pain, weakness in my leg/buttock, and inability to balance in yoga like i’m used to.

You can see from this illustration how the sciatic nerve extends from the spine and down the leg. The sciatic nerve is the size of a man’s thumb. I never knew that.
A herniated disk is a rupture in the disk. It’s akin to the jelly of a doughnut bulging out and that causes pressure on the sciatic nerve. The sciatic pain is referred pain from the herniated disk.

A few tips:

  1. Make sure you get a diagnosis with an MRI, it’s the only way to know treatment.
  2. Consult a physical therapist (PT). I am so grateful for the 5-6 sessions i had with a PT. She gave me key exercises that helped bring down the inflammation and get on the road to recovery. I would continue the sessions, but because of COVID-19 lockdown i was unable to continue. Those initial sessions where crucial. I will never again think i can diagnose and treat myself without having consulted a professional. Had i done the right thing 3 years ago, i could have avoided this. It was plain stupid and ignorant on my part.
  3. I tried to be hero by not taking medication initially, but realised that it was essential to bring down the inflammation. So i took Naproxin for a good 2 months until the inflammation phase was over and the pain subsided and i didn’t need them anymore.
  4. I tried to use both heat and ice but it didn’t give me much relief.
  5. The hardest thing was to sit. I could not sit in a chair or the sofa. I either had to stand, walk, lie down on the floor, sit cross legged on the floor, or lie in bed. This has been the hardest part.
  6. In the inflammation phase massage helped me a lot. I had 2-3 massages a week for a month, then lockdown happened and i had to stop. I had a chiropractic adjustment last week and will have another one next week. I am not entire sure yet if this is helping. I’ll write an update when i know for sure. I figure i try it 2-3x and see. I am looking into seeing an osteopath after this. Because of COVID everything has been postponed, but in some ways i’m glad, because it’s shown me how incredibly effective the exercises/yoga i’ve done has been. It truly works.
  7. Healing takes time and patience. It’s going to take as long as it takes. No “healed in 6 weeks” like the hamstring injury. And it’s not right to put a time limit on healing. The key is to feel improvements over time.
  8. I will have a herniated disk for the rest of my life. It’s a matter of managing it with exercise and lifestyle. I have to take the pre-cautions.
  9. The journey will be different for each of us. Please do what feels right for you.

MY REHABILITATION JOURNEY
I decided to share my journey of rehabilitation in hopes that it could help anyone out there in need of support. I regretted that i didn’t document my hamstring healing better, and show the exercises i used to heal.

I have never been in this much pain in my life. I wish it on nobody. The pain is so horrible; (I rather go through natural childbirth, which i did 12 years ago). When you’re in it, it feels like it’s never going to get better. But it does, with the right treatment. It takes time. You have to practice patience.

Below are the 10 practices that helped me from the painful-inflammation phase to i’m-almost-healed-i-almost-feel-normal-again-this-is-helping phase over a 5 month period. My journey continues and i will not give up until i am back to normal – a new normal.

All the best!
Let me know if any of these practice are of help to you at all.

Sincerely,
Anita Goa

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