Just wondering if any one has any experience of climbing/ hill walking with sciatica?
I currently have sciatica which results in stabbing pains in my calf when I get up from a chair. This subsides pretty quickly and then I can walk around pretty much normally, a slight niggle remains in the calf but I think that's because it's been tensing up so often so doesn't fully relax any more
I've seen two physios, one suggests doing nothing, not moving and basically sitting on my butt, the other says I should continue with my normal activities as much as possible but possibly avoid climbing. I'm normally very active, probably doing stuff 5 days out of 7 (badminton, gym class, climbing, hillwalking etc) and cycle from 7-15 on weekdays depending on what I'm doing. The only thing I'm still doing is the cycling which is totally pain free until I have to get off the bike!
Neither physio can give any indication of how long the sciatica could last so I could be looking at anything between a few weeks downtime to the rest of my life as it may never go The latter prospect I'd really rather not think about. I've previously had one attack which was more painful but disappeared after 3-4 days. This one has been going for just over 2 weeks and I'm already going bonkers.
So basically, just wondering has anyone tried hillwalking/ climbing with sciatica? Did it help, or make things worse?
I don't want to make it any worse but equally well if I'm stuck with this long term sitting on my backside is just not going to work.
Everybodies back stories are different but I had a prolapsed disc for 7 months last year and spent a lot of time in pain especially when sat. For months I had either numbness or pins and needles in my left foot along with the sharp pains in the leg, bum, hip etc etc.
I spent a fortune at the Chiro and Physio. When things were really bad the chiro could get me moving again. The physio did nothing but hurt me more. Whilst they are good at what they do and have their uses remember they are in the business of making money!
I paid privately for an MRI scan and didn't need a pro to tell me that my L5 disc was bulging in to my S1 nerve.
Exercise other than swimming had come to a standstill on their advice.
I finally went to see a spinal consultant at the local hospital last August so I could be put on a waiting list for an operation to remove the bulge in the disc. He offered me the op and I went on a 20 wk waiting list. In our conversation I said I just want to get back to running, cycling, climbing blah blah blah - he said "Why have you stopped?" - I said "Durrrr I've got a bad back" - he said "No you've got leg pain" - I looked confused! He then said I can do no more damage exercising and frankly I need to stay as mobile as poss, the only thing that will stop me is my pain threshold and then I should use pain killers.
So that day I got home and started training again - and like a miracle within 2 weeks I realised I'd got less pain and less pins and needles, within a month I was almost normal. By Christmas it had completely gone and I cancelled the op.
It could have been a coincidence but I feel that he gave me the best advice/info and since then I've learnt how to manage my back.
The British Association of Spinal Consultants have a very informative website.
Until the pain stops you don't realise how exhausting it has been.
Dirk Didler10 Aug 2010
In reply to Fiona Reid: I've had it for years although it can be a bit of a pain"forgive the pun" i still climb/mtb/canoe etc and have found that i don't really notice anymore, i would say that part of this has been to accept that i can,t do certain moves without some pain though so i tend not to try them,about the only thing i don't do at all now which i used to is kayak as the position is unbearably painful after a few minutes, if this does stay you don't have to give up on everything you just adapt but i hope you don't have to.
In reply to Fiona Reid: I suffered from sciatica last year - and having never been particularly sympathetic to people who complained about back pain, etc. I was pretty surprised when it really stopped me in my tracks (literally!).I went for physio at the local hospital, which seemed to help at times, but it dragged on for more than 4 months: not being able to sleep was one of the worst aspects (a memory foam mattress helped a lot). In the end it was the great winter conditions that made the difference: I knew we wouldn't have such a winter again for a long time, so forced myself to get out to get some routes done. It was hard work, but the sustained exercise and in particular the reaching up and stretching really made a huge difference (and I slept better because I was tired after a winters day out). It really made a huge difference. Last week I did Aonach Eagach and the Ben, so feel much better. Don't give up, stretch as much as you can and I am convinced that for many people movement and occasional hard days out are positive steps. You have my sympathy - don't give up!
I had terrible sciatica for a few years, and during that time I also received advice to not go walking or climbing.
Walking was most difficult because the pain sometimes prevented me from doing it comfortably. I never cut down on climbing though, if in pain, I could do movements slowly, and climbing actually turned out to be a key part of the cure for me because climbing involves lots of stretching.
The one thing I would say is that, even though you are not a physio, no one knows your body better than you - so I would suggest trying things out, noting down what actions and exercise you are doing, and monitor how you feel afterwards. And try lots of different stretches (stretching is god, by the way!) Work out yourself which exercises and stretches are good for you, and build on them. For me, despite the initial pain, I always felt wonderful after a few hours of bouldering.. But it will be different for everyone.
Sitting on your backside is definitely not going to make it better!
Hmmm, your physio experience is frighteningly similar. Before I went to the first one I was in pain for the first few steps which quickly eased and now after doing the suggested exercises my calf no longer completely unknots when I'm walking - it did before I went (
When I saw them on Friday I could only hobble when I got up as one of the exercises they gave me to do clearly was making things much worse, I'm not doing that one any more!
I'd also read the British Association of Spinal Surgeons web site, http://www.spinesurgeons.ac.uk/article.asp?article=30 which quite clearly says stay active and that the pain doesn't mean you're doing damage hence the questions re. climbing/walking etc. The BASS advice seems to totally contradict what one physio has said.
I climbed outside last week before being banned and everything was fine except when I had to match feet/hands to the same place and then I just swore at my leg did it anyways! My leg was no worse afterwards or the day after.
I'm also so far quite lucky (and hope it stays that way), when I am walking around the office, cycling etc I pretty well pain free. When sitting I'm pretty much okay but a bit niggly, it's really just getting up from being seated that's the killer. Bending over to touch my toes is a no no as well so tieing shoe laces requires me to bend my knees etc but that's no great hardship. I'm now gradually working out new ways to sit (kneeling is good except I end up with two dead legs from sitting on them). Sitting backwards at my desk chair also seems an improvement from sitting the correct way around.
Thanks everyone for your stories, advice etc. All very interesting and mostly pointing towards keeping moving as much as possible.
Just been back to physio 1 (the one who said no exercise) and the story is the same, no hillwalking, no climbing, no badminton, no sitting down (bit hard when I work at a computer!), oh and no car journeys now as they involve sitting! I pointed out that all the stuff on the BASS site and other places says keep moving and doing your normal activities and was told that applies to the general public and keeping doing sports activities does not apply. I should get up and walk round the office but no sports.
Going to see the gp who's a sports specialist on Thursday so will ask for his opinion.
If I believed that abstaining from all activities would get me better then I'd be a lot happier trying it but I can't help thinking that all I am achieving by not moving/ being active is just stiffening everything up. I was told today my back is now very stiff but that could be cos I've sat on my butt and done nought on their advice.
Until last week I had a fair bit of faith in physios as they've always helped in the past but now I just don't know who to believe. I want to believe the one that says do stuff but have the nagging doubt of what if the one that says stay still could be right.
I guess I'll just have to experiment keep my fingers crossed that it gets better eventually.
In reply to Fiona Reid: Hi - I damaged my spine years ago and occasionally have problems, which can extend from spine down thigh and sometimes to calf. If I catch it early my sports physio usually sorts it first go. She never tells me to stop climbing, only to take care on compression moves (laybacks and the like). If it's too bad to climb then lying in a comfortable position for a day or two usually relaxes it and does the trick. Good luck,
Thanks, the annoying thing is what I currently have is not too bad to climb or indeed do anything as far as I can tell except getting out a chair/car etc. There's moves in climbing like matching my hands/feet that hurt a bit but no worse that getting from sitting to upright. Sitting itself is pretty much pain free, so driving etc doesn't hurt. It's standing up once I get out the car or a seat when I get the pain in my calf. It's quite sharp for the first few steps but eases off and if I gradually stand up from hunched over I can minimise the discomfort considerably.
I've managed to avoid sitting for 2 days now by kneeling, dangling off the end of a seat with my legs underneath me, standing up but I can't do this indefinitely.
Out of interest when you lie down to relax it do you use a particular position?
So off-road mountain biking mightn't be the best plan then!
That's one of my other activities but I can deal with not doing that providing I can still hillwalk at the very least and ideally climb too. I don't really boulder much and even when I do I always downclimb and only drop a v. short distance so could easily alter that to avoid any jumping.
In reply to Fiona Reid: If it's bad, I find I'm chair bound. For a minute until I have to lie on the floor. As to climbing, the pain will make a lot of moves pure agony for you, and strong painkillers (I take codeine and Ibuprofen for it, though the ibuprofen fights with the Venlafaxine I take and gives me really painful indigestion) can make you sleepy to boot.
Not a great answer, but not much you can do while it's bad. Take care too on rowing machines, they always used to trigger mine until I stopped using them.
It should pass if you rest properly rather than exacerbate it.
I have persistent sciatica and after an MRI scan, was scheduled for an operation (facet joints) but it improved enough for this to be cancelled. I did have physio for a while but it didn't help. But now the sciatica is returning (after sitting at a desk for weeks) and I'm not sure what to do. By far the worst for me is after hanging in a harness (hanging belays for example), also using a belay plate when the second is under tension or hanging. My guess is that it's caused by years of doing these things. Although sitting at a desk is not painful, sitting for too long and then getting up most definitely is. This seems to be different to other folk here, which suggests each case is different. In my case, while climbing may have caused it, I'm certainly not going to stop because I think that would make it worse. I have no specific advice but I see no point in stopping activity - at the worst it will speed up some more drastic treatment, and at the best it will improve.
I'd try the MBKing as it's a slightly more upright position to say a road bike just choose your routes.
I know all about the sitting thing. I drive the best part of 50 mins in the morning to get to work and the same if not more to get home and on many days last year I was nearly in tears with pain in the car then I would spend all day at a desk. I made sure I walked for 30 mins every lunch time. Swimming is great if you can do front crawl. Breast stroke could well aggravate things.
I found that my drugs of choice were 3 ibuPs (600mg) and 2 paracetamol and that would be enough to allow me some respite but make sure you eat well with them.
When mine was at it's worse I also got relief using freeze packs. Every part of my brain would say hot water bottle but freeze packs were heaven.
In reply to Andy Nisbet:
I think you're right Andy and I think for all of us once the weakness is there it will come and go. Last year's experience taught me a lot about what was going on with my back and what would work for me so that now I can spot the warning signs straight away and manage it. Now if I wake up with that knowing feeling that my back has gone off on one the first thing I do is take my pill combo, use the freeze packs and within a few hours it sorts itself.
I've resigned myself to the fact that it's something that I will have to live with.
Interestingly reading your comments on possible causes I took a 25' lead fall 20 years ago and landed on my bum sat next to the belayer. I'd always assumed this was the root cause but when I mentioned it to my consultant he said very unlikely and most of us have our parents to thank and it's a genetic lottery as to whether you'll suffer or not.
Actually I tried swimming at the weekend. Can do breaststroke, crawl, backstroke pain free. Tried just crawl legs with a float and one-legged breaststroke too. The only issue is that I really *hate* swimming and find it mind numbingly dull.
I've not tried any drugs as physio suggested otherwise and to be honest my pain is currently about 2-3/10 and is only on getting from sitting to upright or getting off my bike when I have to straighten up. It was approaching 7-8/10 last week after the exercises annoyed it.
I'm currently slumped in my normal heap on the sofa and it's the comfiest I've been all day. I've tried to stay upright at my desk sitting on either a borrowed kneeling stool or hanging off the back of my regular seat today and all I seem to have done is tensed up my back some more. Currently starting to wonder if I should just sit how I'm comfy and accept that it's going to be sore for a few steps when I get up.
Lol - when we all suffer back trouble we always say that's it I'm going to stretch everyday and sit properly and sleep properly forever and ever etc etc then the minute you recover it all goes for a ball of chalk till the next occurance.
In reply to Fiona Reid: Re sitting. When I had severe sciatica I took to lying down on my living room floor and having my pc there. If you have to sit (ie at work) then get up and move around every 20mins. Sitting down actually causes more pressure and compression on your discs than standing or walking does.
Try and keep as active as possible. let your body and pain levels dictate what you can or can't do.
Physio told me to stop climbing and gave me exercises which utterly killed me but my chiropracter said I should carry on climbing. He did say hillwalking wasn't the best idea, mainly because the downhill bits put pressure on the discs (though it seems to be uphill that's worse for facet probs or stenosis I reckon)
If your climbing then avoid bouldering like the plague and when climbing my Chiro said I should try and move as fluidly as possible. Avoid big, dynamic moves and avoid high steps and big rock overs. Especially avoid moves which have you all scrunched up.
95% of folk with sciatica will get better/manage their problem with conservative treatment.
When I had it, I had bouts of being able to climb and bouts where I couldn't even walk without hyperventilating in utter agony. I ended up with masses of scar tissue chocking my nerve root and needed to have surgery to release things.
It wasn't a 100% cure though. If nerve damage goes on for a long time then sometimes it can become permanent. I still used to get numbness in my foot from time to time and my calf muscle in the affected leg has never been the same since. It's much tighter than the other one now, suffers regular cramps.
Walking (on the flat) is supposed to be the best thing you can do for your back (whoever told you to keep sat down and do nothing should be shot!)
You could suffer on and off for anything up to a year/year and half to varying degrees or another or it could get better in weeks. Try and avoid surgery if at all possible. I don't regret having it but it does change the mechanics of your spine and I'm having problems with my upper spine now (though it probably would have happened anyway)
> If you sit at a desk a lot, try raising your seat (or tilting the screen back) so your back is straighter.
My job is desk bound. I've worked out if I sit backwards on the seat and more forwards than normal with my feet taking some of my weight which forces me to be much straighter than normal then I can get up almost okay. The only problem is that I seem to have annoyed my back sitting like this so I may have to experiment till I find something that's a compromise.
Ive had on and off back problems since my early 20's (Im now 56)originally caused by an industrial accident and then exacerbated into sciatica by carrying a pretty girl up an oak staircase followed by 2 weeks of sunny climbing on Skye living on strong painkillers.
Like Andy, leaning over and belaying up a 2nd doesnt help things. MTBing has been OK - makes me generally stiff and battered but doesnt really exacerbate the back. Sitting at a desk for long periods and driving fro long periods are bad. Climbing is generally good. Running can be bad.
It comes and goes and Im just recovering from a 3 week episode now.
Tried all sorts of prasctitioners and massage helps when the lower back muscles go into protective spasm.
BUT the single best thing that ever helped me out was a small book recommended by Mick Ryan of this very site.
Treat Your Own Back
Do read it - its done miracles for my back. Ill never cure it but I now know how to manage it and help it recover from episodes quicker.
Many thanks David, the local library have that book so other half will pick it up at lunchtime.
Do you find that doing nothing or keeping moving (e.g. climbing walking etc) works best when it flares up? I guess everyone is different with this. Perhpas it's time to start keeping a note of what I do and what happens!
So far I've had a week of inactivity based on the physios advice where all I've done is go from my desk to the floor or sofa - I am climbing the walls already. Prior to that I was climbing and playing badminton and as far I can tell the only thing that made my leg any worse was the stretches given to me by the physio which I stopped doing.
Going to give the doing nothing approach a little while longer and if there's still no change then I'm just going back to what I normally do (climbing, walking, badminton etc) providing it doesn't make things worse.
I've now almost sussed out how to get up without annoying my leg, basically ...sloooooooly... and concentrate on relaxing, wait a few seconds to ensure I've relaxed and then move = no limp and no swearing.
I'd love to know for sure what will make it go away quicker for me but I could spend weeks/months of doing nothing and have no change equally well I could just do my normal stuff and have no change either but at least I'll be a lot less fed up. If doing things makes it worse I'll have to re-assess things and try to work out what I can/can't do but both physically and mentally I cannot continue doing zip.
I read through "Treat You Own Back" last night and am now trying to adopt a better seated position. The difference is quite incredible, 5 mins to tesco in usual slouch, hurts getting out the car, 5 mins back concentrating on sitting upright, almost pain free. Sitting upright without a back rest seems to work best but I really need to work out how to get the lumbar roll thing working so I can sit without exhausting myself at work or indeed to drive in a better position.
I also now been to the GP. His advice is to do my normal stuff, climbing, walking whatever, if it's sore for a wee while (an hour or so afterwards fine) if it continues to be sore or the pain gets worse don't do that activity/movement as it's slowing down my recovery.
GP also reckons the most likely cause is that the muscles in my butt have tightened up after 14 days activity on holiday as my leg flexibility is much much better than he would have expected if a disc was causing the problem. He reckons it will probably take a few more weeks to settle down but that unless its causing me more pain doing all my normal stuff shouldn't be a problem.
Concentrating on sitting properly is really hard work though - I hope that gets easier with time. My lower back and the muscles in my stomach seems to be having to work a lot harder than normal which although a good thing really limits how long I can sit before having get up for a wander!
Thank you very much to everyone for all the info and suggestions.
In reply to Fiona Reid: I used to use a bath towel rolled up and placed at the lumbar region when I was sitting and having to drive. Kept your spine in the correct position (but does weaken your muscles over time as they start relying on it but it should be good whilst things are acute)
I hurt my back,15 years ago,facet joint injury, I had a spinal fusion L5/S1 in the end and although i have some pain I climb and run.
Keep moving if you can,the worst thing is to stop. Muscels weaken and tighten making every thing worse.
I found swimming is fantastic when it is bad,you do get into it. The best is, get a float and goggles, hold the float ahead of you and then keeping your head down as much as possible just kick your legs.This opens ans stretches the lower back.
Pilates both provides stability for the long term and i found provided immediate relief too. Get to a proper class and or a good book; The Body Control Pilates Back Book, Lynne Robinson, isbn 0330483110.You do need to learn how to do it for it to be effective.
Climbing,multipitch is less good, I found, especially hanging belays. Single pitch and bouldering where you are not going to fall but keep moving fluidly are good.
Make sure your work desk and chair are the best you can get. get occupational healt on the case. we all spend too much time at work and often just put up with crap work situations.
bg12 Aug 2010
In reply to Fiona Reid:
Having had a long history of back pain I know it can be very debilitating and I tried everything bar faith healing I think. Accupuncture got me moving again but I got interested in back pain in general and studied it and I find that pressure on the trigger points help a lot. Sciatica is sometimes not Sciatica at all. The sciatic nerve runs under or sometimes through a small muscle called the Pirformis (google it) and the nerve is about as thick as your pinky here. Any inflammation of this muscle (in your bum) can cause pressure on the nerve and it can mimic sciatia perfectly. I use a rubber ball, like you would throw for a dog, a tennis ball is too hard. Try lying on the floor and place the ball on the muscle, it will be painfull, and let your weight rest on it for about 30 seconds. then take the weight off 30 seconds, repeat 3 times. Might not work but it's worth a shot, I use this treatment for aches and pains everywhere, mainly my upper back on all the knotted up bits and it works. Good luck with it.
Interesting, the GP reckons its precisely that muscle which is upset which probably explains why the priformis stretch the physio gave me, crippled me!
It's certainly very tight at the moment.
I'd tried the tennis ball thing at the weekend but didn't notice much difference except ending up with sore backside, certainly worth another go though.
Don't suppose you'd have a link to a suitable rubber ball?
bg12 Aug 2010
In reply to Fiona Reid:
Your local pet shop or £shop, but a tennis ball is just too hard, you will hurt yourself, something you can just squeeze in your hand. Just apply enough pressure to give you "comfortable, acceptable" pain. Too much will just put the muscle into spasm. Google piriformus syndrome, quite informative.
In reply to Fiona Reid: Be wary though. Sometimes the straight leg test (what your doc will have tested for) isn't a reliable sign for disc probs. Tiggs off here could do a full straight leg raise and had disc problems.
Also bear (bare? in mind that if your sciatic nerve *is* irritated by a disc bulge then your piriformis muscle can tighten up due to the nerve irritation and thus exacerbate the problem. Sometimes a tight piriformis can be due to sciatica and not the cause of it.
I'm tempted by the McKenzie book as I know he does one for neck problems too, but I'm wary as it was a McKenzie trained physiotherapist that I saw originally for my spinal problems and she utterly crucified me. But I've heard good things from 99% of folk as regards the exercises in the book.
If your pain is reduced with correct sitting posture and visa versa then the problem likely originates from the lumbar spine. Hence forget the piriformis stuff for now. As mentioned the piriformis 'tightness/tenderness' is likely a symptom and not a cause. McKenzie based exercises will hopefully help if you follow the advice correctly. Good luck.
Read through your other posts. Pain worse with lumbar flexion i.e. sitting, riding a bike. Better with correct sitting posture and comfortable doing breastroke, crawl - all lumbar extension based positions. Sounds like you have a possible directional preference and may benefit from the McKenzie approach.
Just sitting still or riding the bike is fine, it's getting back to upright from a seat or getting off the bike that causes grief. I'm gradually learning how to do these things more slowly so it's not so painful but it's hugely stressful having to think every time I get up when I just want to get up and move!
I am both physically and mentally wrecked from trying to sit properly all the time. Relaxing is just impossible when I'm trying to concentrate on sitting upright at the same time.
The problem with adjusting from a flexed position to upright is indicative of a disc problem and a directional preference)
With regard to upright sitting. It should be relaxed. Position your backside to the back of a seat and place a rolled up towel/cushion/McKenzie lumbar roll into the small of your back and just relax and sit back. Don't use you muscles to maintain the position. The back support will keep you in the correct position without you needing to tense up. Your upper back should just rest against the back of the chair in the most relaxed way possible. Don't sit for longer than an hour (preferably 1/2 hr) without standing up and stretching (extending backwards - IF it doesn't cause leg pain). While cycling try to maintain a lumbar lordosis - keep the back arched as much as possible.
Hope that helps.
Okay, will try that tomorrow. I think I've been trying to sit too upright and the net result is I am just knackered. My cycling position is atrocious - I shall perhaps take a spanner to the bike at the weekend. I've been cycling no hands for the last few days which keeps me in a better position although I guess there's other downsides to doing that...
Extending backwards providing I get up slowly is fine, if I get up too fast I just have to wait a bit for my calf to cease being upset (a few seconds usually) and then I can bend backwards pain free - ironically it's something I do quite regularly anyways.
With exercise 3 (extension in lying) I'm finding with my hips out to the right side my right elbow is really taking a lot of strain, is there any way to reduce the pressure on this elbow? The doorframe variation doesn't seem to get as good a stretch but I'm keen not to destroy another part of me if I can avoid it.
Elbow irritation - I've had a couple of patients who experienced a similar thing. You could try a sustained extension in lying position. That is hold yourself in the fully extended position for as long as tolerated. Use pillows under your chest or lay on the sofa resting on the sofa arm so that takes the weight not your arms. Maybe perform them at the foot of the stairs, upper body resting on the lower stairs, pillows for comfort.
Do the extension based exercises cause a reduction of leg pain?
Is it better if your hips are off centre (usually away from the painful side)?
> Do the extension based exercises cause a reduction of leg pain?
No, I only have the pain when I go sitting -> standing otherwise I am fine. Because of that its pretty impossible to tell if there's any difference with the pain as I've no pain doing the the exercise.
> Is it better if your hips are off centre (usually away from the painful side)?
It doesn't seem to make any difference tbh apart from being blooming hard work physically to push myself up when off to the side. My back feels like it's done 10 rounds this morning. I've not tried off centre to the injured side but I guess I can see if that does anything.
Don't bother with complicating it. Just do extensions in a neutral position - no hips off centre. Attention to posture is the main thing. Refrain from sitting for lengthy periods. Prognosis sounds very good.
Thanks. Ironically, the physio who told me to keep doing my normal stuff (so long as it didn't make it worse) also told me to do the extensions both times I've had sciatica. Until this week I've probably never been doing them quite right.
If I sit sensibly at work or even in my usual heap with my back properly supported on the sofa I can get up pretty well pain free, or just with a very small twinge which compared with 2 weeks back is a big improvement. Getting my butt totally back against a seat at work is quite hard as I've short legs and the chair wheels get in the way of my feet.
Have now tried all 3 chairs in the office, plus pinched a kneeling stool which is good but needs to go back to its owner.
Currently filling out a form to get someone to come and look at my working enviroment, will see what happens. I'm hoping they'll take one look and go "bingo" and tell me whatever I'm doing wrong.
Being able to stand might be good as I've spent quite a bit of time on my knees which seems to work pretty well but my knees can't take that position long term. I dunno the long term implications of working standing up though.
In reply to Fiona Reid:
2005: I was unable to even drive a car, my back was so sore. After 4 months of frustration I went for a weekend at reiff (lying in the back of a mates car as I couldn't sit down!) 2 days cragging made a huge difference and I was sorted a week later.
Each (milder) attack since then I've just gone climbing and it sorts it right out.