What a weird week it's been for me. I've actually been laid up for over a week with severe sciatic back pain - the worst it's been in about 5 years or so. This is an ongoing health concern I've had since I was in high school. I would be restless in the hard wooden chairs at school and always try and situate myself in a certain way on the bus to compensate for the hurt I felt. I have always hated the doctor and dentist ever since I was little, but the pain had gotten so bad so I knew I needed to go see what was going on. This wasn’t normal. I only remember bits and pieces from back then, but an MRI told us that I had a herniation of my L5S1 vertebrae. After a couple years of trying physical therapy and still struggling with flare-ups of pain, my condition was so advanced that I eventually had to have it taken care of with surgery in 2006.
My doctor was this cool old Italian guy at Hopkins who I really liked and trusted. A loving family friend of ours worked there and was able to connect me with him. Again, I had never been a fan of going to the doctor, so the fact that I was comfortable and couldn't wait for the surgery tells you how much pain I was in - ready for this to be over. I'd been bed-ridden for like 2 months I think before the surgery too, the pain had gotten so bad. Anyway, I remember waking up from the surgery which was 4 days before my 19th birthday, and crying immediately because I was pain-free that quickly. The surgery was a success for me, but every once in a while it'll happen again when I'm not taking care of myself the way I should be.
FYI : Our spinal cord is made up of three parts of vertebrae: 7 cervical (neck area), 12 thoracic (middle spine), and 5 lumbar (lower back). Then there is our sacrum, which is a large triangular bone that sits between our hip bones. the last segment of our spine.
The spine is split into segments of two vertebrae, the inter-vertebral disc between them, and two nerves that come out from each side of the spinal cord. This explains why my herniation was described as a 2-disc segment because the herniation happened between my L5 and S1 bones.
A herniated disc is when the outer part of the disc is torn, allowing the inner part to extrude to the fibers of the disc. This can copress the nerves around the disc, causing pain to radiate throughout the back, legs, and even arms, depending on where the herniation is. Disc material is similar to crab meat in it's constitution.
During surgery to fix a herniation, the protruding material of the disc that is pressing on the nerve is what's removed, leaving most of the disc in place.
After years of being virtually pain-free, I had a really bad flare-up about five or six years ago just after I quit my full-time job at an Insurance Agency, which was a huge God-send because I was able to stay home and rest it for the couple weeks that it took. But we had just moved and I knew I'd lifted too much, my hubby's tool box to be exact. I'll never forget lifting it and telling myself, you really shouldn't have just done that. The pain kicked in shortly after with a vengeance. Tyler had to drive me to the Emergency Room in the middle of the night because the pain had gotten unbearably bad. It was late September and we had our Jeep Wrangler, and hadn't put the top back on it yet from the summer. I laid in the back seat because I couldn't sit up straight, all the way to the hospital, freezing my tush off. I somehow got out but couldn't stand for longer than a split second, and once I somehow made my way into the ER, I laid down immediately on the floor while Tyler checked me in. I remember the lady looking at me like I was insane and said, "um, ma'am - that floor is immensely dirty...." and me replying with, "I don't give a shit - it's so bad!" Sigh. They gave me a shot of Dilaudid right in my hip and it took a while to kick in, but helped... After several hours, the pain was numbed enough to where I could get back into the Jeep and go home. I'm sure they sent me with pills, which I undoubtedly took, until I was able to nurse it back to normal after about a month's time. That was the worst it's ever been except for just prior to my surgery, then six or seven years prior.
This time, my pain was pretty fierce but not as bad as that was, which is why I was able to treat it naturally. It kept switching sides and I couldn't get comfortable, stand up straight, walk, drive, sit, or pretty much do anything normally. Tyler was amazing. He rubbed my feet with anti-inflammatory oils morning and night, massaged my back, made sure my water was filled with lemon and gave me everything I needed. I'm truly blessed by such a giving and over-achieving husband! Without him, I couldn't have gotten through the week. I would try and do my stretches, exercises, crawl upstairs to pee, come back down and look outside, longing for some fresh air, and then curl back up on the sofa with a stack of cook books, Mother Earth Living magazines, and my iPad. We don't have a TV in our living room (we keep it upstairs in our Den, which makes our living room extra cozy and screen-free) so I'd use my iPad to watch Fixer Upper reruns when my eyes were tired of reading. I also became pretty amazing at the blissfully simple game "Two Dots". Baxter would snuggle up with me and keep me company of course, and during those seldom moments when I'd feel somewhat pain-free, I'd hobble outside at a 90° angle to clip the tulips that were popping up all throughout our little garden out back. They made me smile so much this week, keeping my spirits up.
I'd diffuse different oils through the day, have Tyler open the windows for me before he'd leave for the day so it didn't feel stuffy, and completely made the best of it. My spirits were pretty high most of the week, and I only broke down a couple of times when I was just sick of taking ten minutes to just roll off the couch, onto the floor on my hands and knees, to then try and stand up to use the bathroom, preposition myself on the sofa, or just get a change of scenery for a second. But as of Saturday, I've turned a corner and am so much better - praise God! The inflammation has subsided, my nerves have relaxed, and the muscles in my back that have been hard as a rock all week long have taken a major chill pill.
You'd think I'd be extra cautious so I wouldn't have to go through something like that ever again, but trust me - when you have problems with your back, it can be hard to find the balance of strengthening yourself while being cautious not to overwork it too, and that's what happened - I was physically overworking my back and moving in ways I shouldn't have been. That, combined with not strengthening my core the way I need to and know I should, ruined me for not just this past week, but the last month or so.
So that's my back story, so to speak. A real pain in the ass, lol. A ton of people struggle with back pain, each with their own opinion on treatment. I've never been one to want to try chiropractics, but I know many swear by it. I've found wonderful healing through acupuncture, and believe that the work that I've had done on my back over the past month was extremely helpful, I just messed it up when I should have been resting it, giving it it's due time to rejuvenate and restructure itself. But now I know, and want to strive more than ever to take better care from here on out. A combination of the acupuncture needles, cupping, and Chinese herbs has been incredible and I can't wait to see him again next month.
I knew if I went to the doctor this time, that they'd tell me to rest, strengthen my core, and write me a script for pain killers and muscle relaxers. I wanted time to pass and see what happened, self-medicating (as usual) on my own. (I'm not saying that I recommend self-medicating, it's just what I decided to do. If you are in any pain for any reason ever, don't hesitate to see a naturopath or doctor.) My tolerance for pain is pretty high too, so I went through this week treating it as naturally as possible. I kept telling Tyler that it's like having a toothache in your hip. It's a pinched and highly inflamed nerve so it's not pleasant. It almost feels like you're sitting on a hot rock, my neighbor (who dealt with back pain too - same disc segment as me too) described it as, and she's so right.
I made a cream to rub often on my feet with coconut oil and a blend of essential oils: thyme, lavender, frankincense, chamomile, and wintergreen. My friend Mary also recommended Tiger Balm which was absolutely amazing for pain relief and wow I'm telling you, it's awesome. It's like nature's icy hot. It comes in this tiny little jar but you only need a dime's worth at a time. It was invented by a Chinese herbalist in the 1870's to relieve aches and pains, and is made from a blend of camphor, menthol, clove oil, mint oil, cinnamon oil, among a few other oils. I'm telling you - I loved it. So if you have aches and pains, I highly recommend it. After a few minutes of applying it, my skin felt like tiny little minions were blowing ice crystals all over my back. It was awesome. You can find it at Target for around $5.00. SO worth it.
As far as exercise, Yoga poses and core-strengthening are what's best. If you struggle with this, and even if you don't, these exercise are immensely beneficial to us. These exercises strengthen the muscles of our backs and abdominals, and muscles around the pelvis that provide structure for our spine. All you have to do is get on YouTube or even Pinterest and thousands of videos will pop up with how-to's. The key is sticking with it, which I need to get much better at. The stronger our core/abs are, the healthier our back will be.
Pain is a very personal thing. No one can tell you how much pain you're in or the kind of pain you're experiencing. Only you can be the judge of that. But I will challenge you to try and work through as much of it naturally as you can. It'll make you stronger, more in tune with your body, and allow you to practice discipline of the mind. I kept telling myself, "my brain is telling me that this is pain, but try to think of it as a non-sensory reaction instead" which is totally woo-woo and ridiculous, I know. But it did help me quite often, especially when I was home by myself on a couple of those days, to really separate the pain and sort of put it in a box. It made it easier for me to get through it somehow. I just gave it the mental middle finger and told it to stop affecting me, and in a lot of ways - it did! I stayed very pleasant minded and hearted, calm, peaceful, and pretty mellow despite what I was going through.
So I still need to be careful in the days and weeks ahead, but here's a big CHEERS to standing up straight, getting through it, and feeling stronger for it!