I am 55 now, living with 30 years of low back pain and sciatica that started when I was 25. I was a resident MD, trying to move a patient during an emergency, when I felt excruciating pain in my lower back that felt like a sledgehammer hit me. I worked thru the pain not realizing how injured I was.
I was unable to sit and barely able to walk to the Orthopedist next door, who took an X-ray and diagnosed lumbar strain and fitted me for a lumbar back support with steel stays and gave me Indocin. The pain was unbearable and the Indocin upset my stomach.
Physical therapy worsened the pain and 2 sessions of traction magnified the sciatica in both my legs. Visits to the doctor and changes in anti-inflammatory medications, for a year, gave no relief.
After a year of pain, an MRI of the lumbar spine was ordered. I was one of the first patients then that had an MRI on the new hospital machine. A large central disc herniation of L5-S1 was diagnosed, but surgery was not recommended, since the doctor felt it would not help my pain. The doctor suspected that the disc problem was there for a year and surgery sooner would have been more beneficial.
Unable to sit or sleep, without excruciating pain, made life tough as a resident, but I spent vacation time getting steroid epidurals and resting. The epidurals made me suffer hot flushes, weight gain, and worst of all, no pain relief.
After 3 epidurals, one month apart, I was still in a back brace in agony.
Physical therapy was impossible, so acupuncture was prescribed for pain control. 12 sessions of acupuncture and electro-acupuncture,
over 3 months, eased 50 percent of my pain.
I avoided sitting, driving and any activity that required flexing or bending my spine for 2 years. I could not sit through a movie or a meal at a restaurant for years.
I stood taking my Medical Board exam and leaned against the back wall of the room during Grand Rounds.
Swedish massages exacerbated the pain, but shiatsu massages eased the pain. Ice became a friend. Capsacin pain patches, with and without menthol, helped the low back pain. Zostrix HP cream eased the sciatica. A shiatsu back massage chair, which I had at home, eased the tight back muscles after a hot shower, before bed rest.
A firm mattress with a memory form topper helped my back for years, but 30 years later, morning back pain haunts me daily. My orthopedist recommends I sleep with a back support with a lumbar pad, which has really helped. He recommended I use a wedge, so my head is elevated about 45 degrees and a pillow or wedge under my knees. Zero gravity eases my lumbar spine pain with a soft Velcro-type back support in bed.
My severe pain eased after 2 years and over the years, I have had repeat MRIs of the lumbar spine showing complete re-absorption of the herniated disc.
I enjoyed 15 years of reduced back pain episodes without surgery and careful back care. Unfortunately, with age, my back aches more frequently with weather changes or periods of inactivity. Arthritis and degenerative disc changes I suspect trouble my spine.
Hot packs, ice, capsaicin that reduces substance P, acupressure or shiatsu and 3 different back supports keep me on my feet.
I hope my experience will help others cope with their back pain. -Jan