I can’t believe I’m blogging about Sciatica

For the past four months I’ve had pain pretty much all day, every day. I think I’m finally at the end of it. I saw a lot of doctors, watched a lot of YouTube videos, and read a lot of articles, forums, and books. It’s difficult to get good information:

  • Product reviews seem to say “I TOOK ONE DROP OF THIS AND MY SCIATICA IS GONE FOREVER AND MY HAIR GREW BACK!”
  • Many books and articles promise quick solutions
  • YouTube videos imply that this one stretch will fix all your woes and bring the spice back in your love life
  • Surgeons say chiropractors can’t be trusted
  • Chiropractors say the same about surgeons
  • Group forums say nothing will ever work and you’d best get used to a life of misery.

So, at the risk of further muddying the waters with yet another individual experience that may not match yours, I decided I’d go ahead and document my process a bit in the hope it will help someone else get relief quicker than I did.

(I don’t know if I’m required to explain that I’m not a doctor and this shouldn’t be taken as medical advice, but if I am then I’m not and you shouldn’t.)

I’m 42 years old, by the way. And I had one other short stint of sciatica about 5 years ago, after a long (19 hours in the air, each way!) flight to/from India. It went away in a few weeks with a little physical therapy. Since then I’ve been medium consistent with daily stretching and exercise. And I’m the guy you see walking up and down the aisles during the flight, stretching his legs in whatever little space he can find between food carts and lines for the bathroom.

This time around the pain started with a sore back after a Turkey Bowl football game on Thanksgiving morning. Then I helped someone move and felt a quick bolt of pain in my lower back as I lifted a couch. Within a few days sharp pain entered my hip and then gradually worked its way down my right leg. For a couple of months it was constantly in the back of the knee and felt like repeated tetanus shots, every few seconds all day and all night. It was miserable.

Mornings were worst. After a night of tossing and turning for a comfortable position, I dragged my leg like Igor to the shower. My hip muscles ached because they were working overtime to accommodate a new way of walking. Sitting was painful, so I assembled a laptop stand to work standing up. If I iced my back and never sat down I could halfway enjoy the afternoon. Then it was time for bed and everything would start over.

A few things provided temporary relief during this period:

  1. Ice therapy – This was the most reliable source of short- and medium-term relief. I used a Bed Buddy Back Wrap, which didn’t get cold enough by itself (it’s apparently much better as a heat wrap), but it was great if I wrapped it around my waist and slipped a regular lunchbox ice pack between it and my lower back. I would do this for 30+ minutes every morning and again during the day if pain sharpened.
  2. Heat therapy – this seemed to help sore muscles more than the nerve pain, but sleeping with a heating pad seemed to give me some relief.
  3. Walking – I didn’t feel like walking, but 10 minutes into it I always felt better. Walking slightly downhill felt best. Aerobic exercise is extremely important in the healing of your back – keep it up!
  4. Hot chocolate – I’m pretty sure chocolate has no ingredients that actually heal a degenerated disc, but I swear it brings me more relief than ibuprofen. For you it may be something else, but find something that brightens your mood and relaxes you. It’s your brain that’s deciding how to react to pain, so give it something it likes and it might get distracted for a bit. My current favorite is the Starbucks double chocolate packets, especially that last spoonful of melted chocolate at the bottom.
  5. Yoga/stretches – I found a few exercises in the book Treat Your Own Back by Robin A McKenzie that helped somewhat. They didn’t give the long-term relief the book promised, but maybe they’ll work better for you. You basically just lie on your stomach for 3 minutes (trying to relax your legs and hips), then lift yourself up on your elbows for 3 minutes (still relaxing your hips and legs on the floor), then do some “cobra” pushups with your hips still on the floor.
  6. TENS therapy. This is the electrical stimulation you may have had at a chiropractor or physical therapist. I used the Icy Hot Smart Relief system because it was the first one I saw. It worked pretty well at interrupting the pain and was very portable since it was battery-powered. I could actually wear it to long meetings without being noticed. I’d sometimes wear it all night and turn it back on every time I woke up. But the battery power also meant I had to replace them often. It’s just cheap watch batteries, but it’s still a little bothersome.

I alternated between ibuprofen, aspirin, and acetaminophen – none of them seemed to help much and started to upset my stomach. My doctor prescribed a narcotic, Norco (Acetaminophen / Hydrocodone), which didn’t seem to relieve the pain but made me care less about it. I only took a total of 4 or 5 of them when the pain was at its worst since they made me babble like an extrovert (how do they live like that?) and feel loopy.

I count at least eight doctors that saw me, including x-ray and MRI techs. It took about 2 weeks between each visit, which I think (and at least one doctor confirmed) they do intentionally to see if it will go away on its own. I started with a sports doctor, specializing in orthopedics. He put me on an oral steroid, which made me think I was cured for about 1 1/2 days before wearing off. He also referred me to a physical therapist who was a super nice guy but only made things worse in the 2 1/2 weeks he worked on me (3x per week). By the end of each physical therapy session I could barely walk to my car. My right foot would go completely numb (which never happened on its own) and I wanted to kick puppies and punch cars. My doctor said I could quit physical therapy and referred me to get an MRI.

The MRI showed that I had an unhealthy and bulging disc at L5-S1. This means the disc where the lowest lumbar (L) vertebra meets the upper sacral (S) vertebra, right below the belt (depending on how low you wear your pants).

Here’s what it looks like.

Bulging disc L5-S1

Healthy discs show up with whiteness in them – unhealthy ones are dark. And that poky part I circled is not good. That’s where the disc is bulging out and pressing on my sciatic nerve (the white band cutting through the middle of the picture, top to bottom). There’s another slight bulge three discs up. I also apparently have “congenitally short lumbar pedicles resulting in a predisposition for spinal canal stenosis”. Thanks, ancestors! What this means is there’s less room than usual for the nerves to hang out in the spinal canal, so when the disc bulges it can’t help but aggravate the nerve. Others might have the same disc bulge as me but never know it because they have more wiggle room.

After reviewing the MRI results, the doctor referred me to an orthopedic surgeon. Two weeks later, he reviewed everything and said the next step was a steroid injection. That happened yesterday and I currently feel better than I have in 4 months.

Here’s a picture I took of the x-ray showing a needle (bottom right) in my spine, filling it up with juicy goodness.

Steroid injection x-ray

The puncture didn’t hurt much, but it did all manner of weirdness to my leg, especially down by my right ankle. I also found out that I have six lumbar vertebrae instead of the usual five. He counted twice via x-ray and then said, “You, sir, are an anomaly!” Apparently, about 10% of the population has this abnormality, which doesn’t usually cause any problems by itself.

The steroid is supposed to shrink and calm down the nerve long enough for the body to heal the disc and get things back to normal. Sometimes another round or two is required. And if it doesn’t help for long, the next step is surgery: a microdiscectomy, which is a minimally invasive slice in the back to slice off the bulging part of the disc. Since that destroys the annulus, or the crust that’s holding the gel in place (that’s the way I think of it and may not be anatomically accurate), scar tissue develops to hold things in place again. My surgeon says the surgery itself is very straightforward and safe, but recovery is about three months.

I also looked into several other solutions:

  • Deep tissue massage – this gave me some temporary relief, but not much.
  • Acupuncture – I didn’t try this, but I’ve heard from others that it can buy them a few days of relief at a time.
  • Acupressure – I bought a mat from Amazon and would lie on it for 20 minutes most nights. It’s like a bed of nails. It’s supposed to encourage blood flow and do magical things. Maybe it helped a little.
  • Magic Back Lumbar Support Stretcher – the jury is still out on this one, but it does seem to help.
  • Inversion table – also seems to help. Hard to say in the short term.
  • Spinal decompression treatments (the Axiom DRX 9000!), laser therapy, etc., from a chiropractor. I read this very well-done ad in a mailer and was almost convinced to throw down the $10,000 (some covered by insurance) for 20 treatments. I was ultimately convinced by Internet forums (I found spine-health.com to be very helpful and relatively unbiased) that DRX 9000 claims are dubious at best and the main benefit comes from the exercise part of the plan, which you can get without throwing down so much cash. I was also warned by two doctors and one physical therapist to not get any chiropractic adjustments in my current state. I don’t have anything against chiropractors and have been helped by them in the past, but I decided this wasn’t for me right now.

Pretty much every day something new arrived from Amazon and my wife would smile in that one way you’re all familiar with and say, “Hey, another back thing!” If Amazon sold hot tubs I’d probably be cured by now.

In my case, nothing could control the pain until the steroid injection. From what I gather from my doctors, there’s a sequence they go through from conservative solutions to invasive ones:

  1. Physical therapy
  2. Oral steroid (Prednisone)
  3. Steroid injection (possibly multiple)
  4. Surgery

I’m glad no one tried to rush me to surgery. I wish the path to what eventually worked would have been shorter, but at least I can be sure the more conservative steps didn’t work.

[Update a week later: I still have some pain, but it’s much lighter and less-sustained than before. My Igor gait is gone. Sitting for something I enjoy (a basketball game or a concert) is bearable but sitting for something I’m required to attend is still painful. I’m hopeful that things will continue to improve now that the nerve is less irritated. I walk at least 40 minutes a day and do McKenzie exercises and a few others.]

Here’s what I’d do differently next time:

  1. Go to a doctor sooner. I spent almost 2 months thinking this was piriformis syndrome (where the piriformis muscle in the hip pinches the sciatic nerve) and I just needed to do some stretches on my own. By the time I went to the doctor I was in serious pain and it was having a big impact on my daily activities.
  2. Start with a physiatrist instead of spending (wasting) time on a series of referrals. According to a large Back Pain Survey performed by Dava Sobel and Arthur C. Klein, the authors of Backache: What Exercises Work, the premier back doctor is a physiatrist. “These practitioners rarely prescribe drugs and do not perform surgery. They prefer instead to use individually prescribed exercise regimens and physical therapy to treat back pain.” This was the last specialist I was referred to, the one who did my steroid injection. He works closely with a surgeon and can refer me in that direction if that looks to be the best route.
  3. Don’t help people move.

Hopefully some of that is helpful to someone out there. May you find rapid relief. I’m currently working out my daily exercise routine and might post it later.

The Road to Character

“People turn into little brand managers, using Facebook, Twitter, text messages, and Instagram to create a falsely upbeat, slightly over exuberant, external self that can be famous first in a small sphere and then, with luck, in a large one.” (The Road to Character by David Brooks, page 251.)

The Road to CharacterThis book triggered at least two nights of insomnia. The introduction provided more than a few slaps to the face, mostly regarding my uneasy relationship with Facebook. I like Facebook. And I hate it. I care too much about likes. I have an “overeager desire to have people think about me.”

The author speaks of the “resume virtues,” which our current society is very good at developing, versus the “eulogy virtues,” which. . . not so much. The eulogy virtues are those mentioned at your funeral and they’re probably not efficiency, productivity, and wealth.

He claims that before about 1950, we humans thought of ourselves as Little Me, part of a larger group that was smarter than we could be on our own. In recent decades, and thanks in large part to the self-esteem movement, we’ve exaggerated the Big Me: the one that just needs to “be myself” and follow its dreams to succeed. “This mindset is based on the romantic idea that each of us has a Golden Figure in the core of our self. There is an innately good True Self, which can be trusted, consulted, and gotten in touch with. Your personal feelings are the best guide for what is right and wrong.” (Page 249)

I lost interest in most of the character sketches that make up the middle bulk of the book. You’ll see from the page numbers below that there was a large gap in my reading. But the beginning and the end of the book shook me up and have consumed my thoughts for a few weeks now.

Some highlights:

“The noise of fast and shallow communications makes it harder to hear the quieter sounds that emanate from the depths.” (Page xiii)

“You are busy, but you find you have a vague anxiety that your life has not achieved its ultimate meaning and significance.” (Page xiii)

“It is easy to slip into a self-satisfied moral mediocrity. You grade yourself on a forgiving curve. . . You approve of yourself so long as you are not obviously hurting anyone else.” (Page xiv)

“Sometimes you don’t even notice these people [those with “impressive inner cohesion”], because while they seem kind and cheerful, they are also reserved. They possess the self-effacing virtues of people who are inclined to be useful but don’t need to prove anything to the world.” (Page xvi)

“They make you feel funnier and smarter when you speak with them.” (Page xvii)

Facebook thumbs up or downParaphrasing a Girl Scout handbook from the good old days: “The chief obstacle to happiness. . . comes from the overeager desire to have people think about you.” (Page 8)

“Humility is freedom. . .” (Page 8)

“You won’t even achieve enduring external success unless you build a solid moral core.” (Page 12)

Nietzsche: “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”

“All of us are given gifts, aptitudes, capacities, talents, and traits that we did not strictly earn.” We need to “justify our gifts”. (Page 24)

Albert Schweitzer: “Anybody who proposes to do good must not expect people to roll any stones out of his way.” (Page 25)

“A vocation is not about the pursuit of happiness, if by ‘happiness’ you mean being in a good mood, having pleasant experiences, or avoiding struggle and pain.” (Page 25)

“Those who pursue struggle end up being happier than those who pursue pleasure.” (Page 29)

“Communications have become faster and busier. It is harder to attend to the soft, still voices that come from the depths.” (Page 250)

“Social media allow a more self-referential information environment. People have more tools and occasions to construct a culture, a mental environment tailored specifically for themselves. . . Each individual can be the sun at the center of his or her own media solar system.” (Page 250)

“Our natural bent is to seek social approval and fear exclusion. Social networking technology allows us to spend our time engaged in a hyper-competitive struggle for attention, for victories in the currency of ‘likes.’ People are given more occasions to be self-promoters, to embrace the characteristics of celebrity, to manage their own image. . . People turn into little brand managers, using Facebook, Twitter, text messages, and Instagram to create a falsely upbeat, slightly over exuberant, external self that can be famous first in a small sphere and then, with luck, in a large one.”

“Moral realists saw the self as a wilderness to be tamed. . . People living in a high-pressure meritocracy are more likely to see the self as a resource base to be cultivated.” (Page 252)

See also:

Signs that made me smile

I enjoy a good sign. Here are a few that caught my eye.

Saturn BBQ
Saturn BBQ
I think we can all agree that manure has been oppressed for too long
I think we can all agree that manure has been oppressed for too long
I like this better than Yield
I like this better than Yield
Do not dispose of anything specific here.
Do not dispose of anything specific here.
I only made it 'til about 3am
I only made it ’til about 3am
What if I want to please someone else?
What if I want to please someone else?
I think this is cute. I imagine the librarians in their meeting, saying, "We need something edgy, something that speaks to the teens of today!"
I think this is cute. I imagine the librarians in their meeting, saying, “We need something edgy, something that speaks to the teens of today!”
This town needs more of this street.
This town needs more of this street.
The State of California is always bragging about things it knows.
The State of California is always bragging about things it knows.
My kind of graffiti
My kind of graffiti
I want to make this into a t-shirt
I want to make this into a t-shirt
This is just the message I needed today.
This is just the message I needed today.
I think they mean "mouth-watering"
I think they mean “mouth-watering”
If I were seafood I would definitely think twice before accepting this welcome.
If I were seafood I would definitely think twice before accepting this welcome.
I'm impressed by his ability to maintain good diving form even while his head bashes in.
I’m impressed by his ability to maintain good diving form even while his head bashes in.
I appericate it when you eat with your fingers.
I appericate it when you eat with your fingers.
I magically recommend the black fungus
I magically recommend the black fungus
Big Burp Theory
Big Burrp Theory
I wonder if Patrick ever wishes this sign were more portable.
I wonder if Patrick ever wishes this sign were more portable.
Words to live by in a restroom in New Delhi
Words to live by in a restroom in New Delhi
As far as I can tell this means that behind this door there's a toilet and it has bum-washing capabilities and your baby can watch.
As far as I can tell this means that behind this door there’s a toilet and it has bum-washing capabilities and your baby can watch.
Do not make squirrels magically appear. Runner up: Do not play dice with squirrels.
Do not make squirrels magically appear. Runner up: Do not play dice with squirrels.
Still Cursing
Still Cursing
Hipster Crap
Hipster Crap
I just like the artwork here
I just like the artwork here
This sign stresses me out - New Delhi market
This sign stresses me out – New Delhi market
The use of shampoo and gel is prohibited in this area
The use of shampoo and gel is prohibited in this area

Do not drink Beverly at the World of Coke

Description of Beverly from The Coca-Cola Company site:

The product was introduced in Italy in 1969 as a non-alcoholic aperitif. Aperitifs are drinks that are consumed before meals and are believed to aid digestion. The 1971 ads for Beverly feature the slogan, “Cold as Helsinki, sparkling as Rio, dry as El Paso.” By 1978, the brand was popular enough to be featured in a company history of the Italian market and was available in both the “classic” and “white” versions. The brand continued to be sold in Italy battling against the bigger competitors, like Campari and San Pellegrino which also had products in that category. In 1991, Beverly “White” was chosen as one of the 16 products from around the world to be made available in the tasting area of the original World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta.

Here are a few photos of Beverly at Club Cool at Epcot, Disney World –

 

When I migrated hillfamily.net recently to a new host, I had to abandon my old photo galleries, whose software is no longer supported. The single most-visited page on the old site was this 10-year-old photo of the Beverly drink dispenser from the World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta, which someone linked to from a Wikipedia article about the drink. And that being the top page tells you something about the thrilling nature of hillfamily.net content.

So, I’m posting the image here and setting up a redirect from the old url, just to eliminate the disappointment of one more broken link on the World Wide Web.

For archival purposes, here are the old comments about it from the original page:

From: Someone (Sun 07 Aug 2005 09:34:51 PM EDT)
Yeah…. That tasted like *&%$
From: ~Naquisha~ (Sun 22 Jan 2006 10:07:56 PM EST)
EWW..ITALIANS SHOULD STICK WITH GELATO!
From: Danny Lewis (Wed 01 Mar 2006 11:03:57 PM EST)
Yeah, if there was anything I could relate the taste to, it is cough surup. My favorite drink, however, was the watermelon soda from China.
From: Mr. Thirsty (Mon 24 Apr 2006 10:51:55 AM EDT)
This stuff is delicious! But it’s definitely not for those with wimpy tastes. :p Too bad it’s not available in the US – I’d buy it.
From: Jessica (Fri 26 May 2006 04:23:06 PM EDT)
Beverly is like eating grapefruit and drinking milk. Then puking it in an ashtray and drinking it again.
From: Erin (Wed 21 Jun 2006 01:06:29 PM EDT)
Someone I know made a bet w/ his friends on how much he could drink… Search Beverley Epcot on yahoo video’s… the boys name is Matela
From: House4 (Tue 18 Jul 2006 04:04:35 PM EDT)
Beverly mostly tastes like alcohol and grapefruit. After you try it, you should go and wash your mouth out with mouth wash.
From: Patrick (Wed 19 Jul 2006 11:29:32 AM EDT)
They should get rid of Beverly before someone gets really sick. My favorite drink was all of them exept for Beverly. Where did this drink come from??
From: House4 (Wed 07 Feb 2007 03:58:23 PM EST)
I thought it came from Germany. But some how it’s Italy. UGH that drink is nasty. It will drive your taste budds sick.
From: Richard (Wed 21 Feb 2007 10:38:01 PM EST)
I tried Beverly at the World of Coke. All of the descriptions of its taste by the postings on this site do not come close to expressing how bad it is. It’s taste is worse than*&%$
From: Máire Ruadh (Fri 16 Mar 2007 09:57:35 PM EDT)
I like it. I don’t drink soda often, and all but Mozambique, Israel and Italy are wayyyy too sweet for me. Wish I could buy it here.
From: Jim (Fri 20 Apr 2007 02:49:47 PM EDT)
I LOVE this drink. Every time I go to EPCOT I drink it. Trying to find out how to buy some. My wife however is fairly certain I’m crazy.
From: Da Dawg (Mon 23 Apr 2007 12:56:35 AM EDT)
Beverly actually isn’t that bad. It is basicaly liquid bitter.So if you like bitter, then you’ll like Beverly.
From: Terry F (Wed 14 Mar 2012 04:36:41 PM EDT)
It tastes like scotch and sewer water mixed with black licorice steamed in castor oil.
From: Britt (Tue 20 Mar 2012 02:20:45 AM EDT)
Lived on this stuff in Epcot. Every time we got overheated we stopped by and had 1, 2, 30 cups of Beverly. Not only do I love the flavour, but it’s the only drink they have that isn’t super sweet. I wish we could buy it in Canada
From: Adrienne S. (Wed 25 Jul 2012 11:01:25 AM EDT)
Beverly tastes like dish soap and carbonated water.
From: Tony D (Sat 01 Sep 2012 06:23:01 PM EDT)
First time I tried it, I hated it; by the third trip, I loved it.
From: tracey (Mon 05 Nov 2012 02:39:25 PM EST)
it’s nasty.
From: Mattie (Sat 15 Dec 2012 10:26:20 AM EST)
It tastes like sprite for about half a second.……………… and then barf
From: John D (Sat 23 Feb 2013 04:43:53 PM EST)
I actually like this a lot- at first I didn’t, but I got used to it after drinking it a few times. Definitely an acquired taste, and definitely one most people won’t like.
From: ratbunz (Sun 07 Apr 2013 12:36:03 PM EDT)
Why did they name it beverly were they mad at her?
From: ratbunz (Sun 07 Apr 2013 12:38:46 PM EDT)
My favorite was bibo I can’t remember the actual flavor but it was yellow and tasted like candy sorta if they sold that here I would buy it ill have to look on e bay or amazon or something
From: Maggie Woods (Wed 26 Jun 2013 06:59:09 PM EDT)
It was disgusting. After I tried a whole cup I thought I was going to puke!!
From: READ THE COMMENT AND ANSWER ME (Thu 08 Aug 2013 08:02:53 PM EDT)
HAVE YOU TRIED THE BEVERLY?????????????HELLO?????????????????????-nascar5
From: Kaylyn (Mon 14 Apr 2014 04:08:59 PM EDT)
I really liked the taste of Beverly. Like others have said, I think it was because it was not so sickening sweet like some of the other ones. I do not drink pop usually FYI.
From: Terrible (Sat 07 Jun 2014 02:30:59 AM EDT)
This is the worst garbage i’ve ever consumed
From: Great (Tue 24 Jun 2014 09:32:34 AM EDT)
I really liked the Beverly. I didn’t get the bitter aftertaste that people normally get. I though it rather sweet and resembling Sprite.
From: Taisttester (Wed 16 Jul 2014 04:08:17 PM EDT)
It really isn’t that bad. My sister thought she going to throw up.d :
From: Su (Sun 26 Oct 2014 01:20:38 AM EDT)
I liked it!
From: nutty guy (Tue 11 Nov 2014 10:06:15 PM EST)
tasted like cough syrup
From: cookies n creme (Tue 30 Dec 2014 04:36:55 PM EST)
this is the worst drink that you could possibly consume
From: Bob Bubbers (Tue 06 Jan 2015 08:23:39 PM EST)
The people claiming they like it are liars trying to seem better than you.This soda is carbonated vomit, please don’t ever put it in your mouth.