As I cannot currently do any new projects or work in the loft workshop at the moment, I thought I would write about what has been happening during the Covid 19 lockdown here in the UK for me.
Normally in the summer months I would be walking 20+ miles and cycling 50+ miles each week.
For the past three months I have been dealing with an ongoing problem with bad sciatica pain in my right leg and hip area with lower back pain on the right side. This post details the things I have tried so far and the ones which have made it worse and better.
I hope this will be useful for anyone else dealing with the same symptoms and I would appreciate any comments if you have found exercises or treatments which have worked for you.
The Initial Cause of the Pain!
We have a family allotment where we grow fruit and vegetables and in early March I spent three days in a row digging the veg area by hand for several hours each day and after the third day, I had pain in the buttock on right side and some pain behind the knee and calf muscle.
As I have had lower back pain problems in the past due to an old injury, I thought it was the same as before and took paracetamol which numbed the pain for a while, but I started to get very sharp pains and numbness down my leg to my foot when moving from sitting or lying down to standing which felt like electric shocks running down the leg.
I searched online and found information about sciatica and the symptoms seemed to match with the pain in the buttock and back of the knee / leg.
The recommend treatment was to see a physiotherapist, chiropractor or osteopath but as the country was locked down due to the Covid 19 pandemic, I was not able to get any professional help.
I looked on various websites and found a YouTube channel which was recommended Yoga For Sciatica - Yoga With Adriene
I did the exercises once a day, but by the end of April the pain was getting worse and the leg was showing signs of weakness with a very strong ache in the buttock / glutes and the back of the knee when trying to extend the leg when sitting or moving the leg too far forward (stretching the hamstrings).
First visit to the Doctor
When the pain started keeping me awake at night, I was able to make an appointment with my doctor and he examined me and couldn’t find any obvious spine issues and said it could be piriformis syndrome after performing leg lift tests but there isn’t any treatment he can recommend at the current time apart from taking ibuprofen with Omeprazole Gastro Tablets to counteract the ibuprofen side effects to try to reduce the inflammation and also take paracetamol to help with pain control, continue with the exercises and it should resolve itself and to do nerve flossing exercises.
Nerve Flossing Example
The doctor recommended seeing a NHS or private physiotherapist but due to the lockdown none of the physiotherapists could to see anyone.
I continued with the yoga exercises and was able to walk a mile or more each day outside but limping on the right side due to the pain which was much worse when walking up hills.
I found a subreddit on reddit.com/r/Sciatica/ which had a lot of useful posts and I was recommended a book called Back Mechanic by Dr. Stuart McGill, (amazon.co.uk/Back-Mechanic-Stuart-McGill and to do core strengthening exercises from the book which I was doing throughout April and the start of May until my mobility decreased further.
Second visit to the Doctor
By the second week of May despite the exercises and stretches, the pain was getting worse and I went back to the doctor and was prescribed Naproxen 250mg one twice per day and Omeprazole Gastro Tablets 1 per day and to continue taking Paracetamol. I was referred to Poole Hospital spinal unit for an MRI scan to see if they can locate the source of the pain and recommend suitable treatment.
I was also told to use hot and cold on the affected area. The hot treatment with a hot water bottle seems to help for a short time but ice packs cause more pain.
Spraining the Ankle
I was still going out twice a day walking with my dogs at the end of May and start of June but on the 3rd June, I was stepping off a kerb to avoid a group of tourists when I badly rolled my right ankle sideways and twisted it. It was painful the rest of the walk, but I got home without any problems but over the following days the ankle started to swell up and I could not stand unaided without a lot of pain.
The pain was getting worse when standing and walking and at I had a telephone appointment with the doctors to follow up on the sciatica tablets / pain and was prescribed Codeine 30mg tablets and to take one or two up to 4 times per day. These gave me bad dizziness and nausea with bad constipation and did not seem to help much with the pain.
Visiting Swanage Hospital
After a few more days I was unable to go out walking due to the ankle pain and swelling with very sharp glute / top of hamstring pain and ankle pain when standing which was getting worse every day.
I started using crutches to get around the house, but this was also very painful.
The pain was causing a strong ache / electric shock feeling down to my right foot when standing or lying with my leg straight. I called my local hospital who have a Minor Injuries Units (MIU) and they told me to go to them and they would examine my ankle and Xray it if needed to see if it was broken or sprained.
The hospital staff checked the ankle and foot and could not find any symptoms which indicated a broken bone and told me they thought it was a Grade 2 level ankle sprain and I should treat it with ice packs and use a ankle support to help it heal.
They also told me that the hospital physiotherapist would be starting work again soon and to contact them online for a telephone appointment and they would send me suitable exercises to do.
Trying to Sleep
The pain was waking me up at night and taking paracetamol / codeine would only allow me to get 2-3 hours sleep.
I have tried different support pillows including Elevating Memory Foam Leg Rest Pillow but this caused a lot of pain in the low spine / glute area. The only way I have been able to get any rest is by sleeping on my side with a pillow between my knees after taking pain tablets.
Stronger Pain Relief
After another week I had extremely bad spasms and pain in the entire leg which made me collapse and my family called the out of hours doctors to see if they can give a nerve blocking injection or pain control. The doctor visited me at home and after examining me, he thought the ankle pain was also an achilles tendon sprain which explained the pain in the back of the lower leg and why I could not put any weight on the area. He prescribed a much stronger liquid pain drug called Morphine Sulfate and to take up to 5mg up to 4 times a day and to stop taking the codeine tablets.
I started to take a single dose of the Morphine Sulfate at night and it was giving me 2-3 hours uninterrupted sleep before the effect wore off. It helped a lot with the ankle pain but not the nerve pain in the glutes and back of the leg.
The Physiotherapist Appointment
The local physiotherapist contacted me by phone and had a long discussion regarding everything which I had been doing and the current pain problems. She told me that after reviewing the “Yoga With Adriene” video, she thought that I was pushing my hamstrings much too hard and that was not helping with any healing and I could have made the problem worse.
The physiotherapist sent me several pages of exercises and stretches to do and I am currently doing the first stage ones to get everything moving again.
Finally seeing an Osteopath
With the Covid 19 lockdown restrictions starting to lift I was able to make an appointment with a local Osteopath on 8th June and after examining me, he thought it is a problem with L4 L5 in the spine causing the sciatic nerve to get impinged but the MRI would confirm this.
He did some gentle movements of my leg and hip joints and recommended that I stop trying all the other stretches for a week and just do some basic movements of the joints to settle things down.
On the second visit a week later, the Osteopath did additional joint manipulation which showed additional movement to the previous week and some deep tissue massage. The following couple of days were very painful but I started to get improved movement in the leg and less glute pain.
On the third visit this week, the session was spent with deep tissue massage and the following days were painful but not as bad as the previous weeks.
MRI Scan Delays
On the 11th June, I received a letter from the spinal unit at Poole Hospital which I thought was regarding the MRI scan referral from my Doctor. The letter said that someone would be in contact within two weeks to book an appointment.
I waited two weeks and after not having any contact, I telephoned the spinal unit and was told that my doctor was not able to request a MRI scan and that I would have to see a consultant in the hospital which could be in weeks or months due to the current backlog and after this, if the consultant agreed, he would refer me for the MRI scan which could be weeks or months after that before they can possibly consider any other treatment.
The following links are videos and equipment which I have purchased which have made life easier with sciatica.
Back Mechanic by Dr. Stuart McGill
Percussion Muscle Massage Gun. Works well on tight muscles and hamstrings.
Reusable Ice Packs
Tens Machine for pain relief. 30 minutes of use reduces the pain for up to 2 hours.
Shower and Bath Seat, never thought I would need one of these but makes taking a shower much less painful.
Squatty Potty Ecco - The Original Bathroom Toilet Stool. Makes using the toilet much less painful!
Bob & Brad YouTube Channel.
A lot of useful videos on all different types of pain and exercises to help.
Seated Nerve Flossing Video
The overall pain levels are slowly dropping now, and I have been doing some simple stretches including back extensions nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/exercises-for-sciatica/ which are shown in the video below:
I can walk around the house on crutches without the very intense pain and can stand for a short time unaided.
I am finding that when I stand or lay down on my front I am getting tingling and pain down my right leg but after several minutes the pain starts to move up out of the foot and into the leg which gives me some hope that it is going to improve.
I plan to continue with the weekly visits to the Osteopath and following the exercises supplied by the physiotherapist and Osteopath.
Looking back over the past months, I wish I had not overdone the exercises initally which appears to have caused more damage overall. The ankle injury has put me back with my recovery and I hope to be able to start cycling again this year once I am back on my feet!
If anyone has any comments or feedback on this post please submit them below.
Top photo by wikipedia.org www.scientificanimations.com/