When I was 20 years old, I was going to school full-time, working as a lifeguard and surf instructor, and volunteering for the rescue squad. As a volunteer I was part of an extraction unit that specialized in removing victims from car accidents. Having my body be always ready for any wave or rescue was very important to me.
Brett, Meet Sciatica
On one morning, I woke up with intense back pain. At this stage in my life, I had never experienced back pain before. I went about my usual day, which started off with me sitting in the classroom for about eight hours or so. Throughout the day, the pain got worse to the point where I could barely walk or sit. That evening, I noticed that my left hip had shifted to the side and that my back and hips looked very awkward. At that point, I did what most people would do and scheduled an appointment with my doctor. doctor. My doctor ordered an MRI that revealed I had greatly herniated my L5-S1 and L4-L5 discs. The MRI report also contained used a lot of scary terms like to degenerative disc disease which gave me concern if this was going to stay with me, and potentially get worse, throughout my life.
My doctor referred me to an orthopedic surgeon who told me that if my sciatica, or numbness and pain down my left leg, didn’t get better, they would need to fuse my back. Keep in mind that at that stage my life I had not been to physical therapy school and had no idea what these injuries were all about.
Like most people I started to become extremely worried. I was still so young and I knew that back pain ended a lot of people’s surfing careers and some even were put on disability. I was weary that my days of surfing professional contests were over and I felt vulnerable. I was so used to being the big strong guy that could rescue people out of trouble waters and pull people out of crashed cars. The thought of not being able to do those things led me to feel a small bit of an identity crisis.
Preventing Sciatica From Coming Back
I knew that those discs in my back would never un-herniate or be like they were before. But I also learned that just because you have slipped discs does not mean you have to experience sciatica. Only when a herniated disk irritates nearby nerves will pain, numbness or weakness be experienced.
To prevent sciatica, I learned how to use my body properly. I couldn’t believe that for so many years I had no idea how to bend, lift, sit or even stand properly. In a lot of ways my slipped disc became a blessing in disguise. Because of the injury, I learned postures and movement patterns that have relieved stress on my knees, hips and lower back for decades to come. As a result of sciatica and learning how to move properly, I became a better surfer than I ever was before. I became a better surfer because those same postures applied to bending and squatting correctly also apply to surfing better.
I now have a very happy low back. Sciatica doesn’t have to be complicated. Actually, the solutions are incredibly simple and easy to apply. Turn you injury into an opportunity to become a better athlete or at least have better posture that will pay dividends towards pain relief long into the future…
It has been 11 years since I first had sciatica. And I have to say that this point that old injury does not negatively impact my life at all. If I went back to slouching and lifting improperly, I am sure the back pain would return. There are a few stretches I do every morning to keep my hips limber so that bending and squatting properly stay easy.
Bottom Line: Just because you have sciatica doesn’t mean you have to stop doing the activities that you love. The emphasis for any sciatica treatment should be using the body properly. The exercises should assist with providing the strength and flexibility needed to avoid movement patterns that worsen sciatic symptoms (slouching, lifting with back, sitting inactively). Contact your local physical therapists to learn how you can continue to do the things you love doing – even if you have sciatica.