Sciatica Pain Gone through Military Experience Knowledge

5 02 2020

5 February 2020 by Marc Woodard

[Marc is the soldier in the featured image overlooking Camp San Louis Obispo, CA – during active duty training, 2002]

What is sciatica and what is the best way to manage, alleviate or remove it?

Through my military experience I found a treatment path which led to complete reversal of my sciatic pain problem. A pain problem that afflicted me throughout my 20 year military career. Below under “Sciatica Pain Experience During My Military Career,” I detail my experience and findings and treatment course once I connected all the dots. Possibly these pain alleviation modalities could work to relieve and/or reverse your sciatica problem without surgery.

Sciatica in short, refers to back pain caused by a problem with the sciatic nerve [webmd 2020]. Sciatica (nerve pain) can be caused through numerous factors: incorrect posture, genetic deformities, injury or overuse of back muscles, or when the vertebra discs become defective or inefficient at absorbing vertebrae structural stress, or the bone itself is compromised then impinge upon the sciatic nerve. Sciatica isn’t actually a condition, but instead a medical term used to describe symptoms, such as tingling, numbness, prickly sensation and shooting pain down the leg to foot. The cause of sciatica varies in pathology but can be effectively alleviated without surgery, or non-intrusive surgery in many cases… such as mine was the case.

Skeletal compression, or impingement often occurs at vertebra’s L4-5 (lumbar) to S1-2 (Sacrum).

Sciatica pain in the lower back and extremities are often caused by injury, over-stressed muscular skeletal system, poor postural alignment and bad genetics; whereas soft tissue and/or skeletal compression, or impingement often occurs at vertebra’s L4-5 (lumbar) to S1-2 (Sacrum). Pain and swelling events can be isolated in the lower back and/or felt anywhere down the lower extremities at various frequency, duration and intensity throughout the day once aggravated by any number of postural load imbalances.

The six most common spinal disorders that cause spinal nerve compression and sciatica lumbar radiculopathy (radiating pain) are

1) Bulging or herniated disc (The gel-like center of the disc mal-forms creating nerve compression and swelling around the sciatica nerve). 2) Spinal stenosis (nerve compression through narrowing or clogged nerve pathway – brought about by standing or walking and relieved by sitting down). 3) Spondylolisthesis (Characterized by slipping and displaced vertebrae – acquired at birth and developed through childhood, trauma or physical stress. 4) Trauma (accident injury, sports, weight lifting, etc.). 5) Piriformis syndrome (named for the low back piriformis muscle impinging and irritating the sciatic nerve. This condition is also very difficult to diagnose and treat due to lack of findings through x-ray and MRI findings). 6) Spinal tumors (although tumors are rare in the lumbar region, benign or cancerous (malignant) tumors can develop creating nerve compression. Fortunately, this is a rare.

Those who suffer from sciatica should also be aware of the term radiculopathy

Radiculopathy is a term often used to describe radiating pain from its origin. In the case of sciatic nerve and radiating pain problems, this pain origin occurs at L5-S1 vertebrae [refer to images above]. When there is a low back nerve impingement, or compression condition on the right side of the lower back for example, and it causes pain and/or numbness down one side of the buttocks and/or thigh-to-foot-to-toe… This is a radiating or radiculopathy neural pain symptom. The pain travels distant from the lower back pain origin. Many patients who experience radiculopathy symptoms absent of low back pain don’t relate the pain stemming from a low back problem. For others the low back symptoms may be a feeling of achenes and stiffness, but not produce radiating pain. At this point in time, the low back is likely stressed and requires early medical diagnosis and treatment to avoid future episodes and worsening a low back condition.

Although symptoms of radiculopathy pain in the low back may occur at the same time as a burning and/or prickly sensation down the leg and toes – patients “at first” rarely associate this pain originating from the low back. Unless pain in the low back occurs simultaneously at the same time it is felt in the lower extremities.

To get treatment for low back sciatica and radiculopathy pain, see your primary care physician and ask to be referred to a physiatrist. This is a medical doctor who specializes in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation [also called PM&R physicians]. A Physiatrist is a pain specialist doctor who diagnoses and treats both acute and chronic pain in a wide variety of nonsurgical treatments for the Neuromusculoskeletal system” (google 2020); and can refer surgical intervention if determined the best treatment course. The sciatic problem can be diagnosed through use of x-rays, CAT Scan (Computerized Axial Tomography – 3 dimensional, multiple cross-sectional picture technology) and MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging – Magnetism produces images of body structure).

Sciatica Pain Experience During My Military Career

When I was younger, I associated the numbness in my right calf and foot with military issued boots at the beginning of my 20 year military service. Foot discomfort and back pain seemed to go along with the territory. There was much conversation between soldiers regarding military issued boots also suspected of causing knee, hip and lower back pain. Foot pain was a given in the military. Everyone I knew during basic and advanced soldier training had foot problems as a result of wearing those boots.

Military issued boots in the 80’s and 90’s had no posture corrective insoles. And the exterior leather required a lot of wear and tear treatment/ conditioning to make it comfortable to wear around the foot all day long. Although a pre-wear and tear treatment process helped condition to break in the boot… imbalanced pressures on the soul and side of foot and toes often caused painful hot spots, even after the boots were broke in.

I like many other soldiers began limping acutely during basic training… I also continued wearing those basic boots for the first 5 years of service limping at various times. I had no ideal through this time they were the cause of my low back pain. The postural imbalances were further aggravated by intense occupational work load [field training] on my body, which further compromised the lower back alignment and weakened the area – causing swelling around the sciatic nerve. In time, pain was felt from the lower back, buttocks, leg and foot [radiculopathy].

It only took 5 years of improper foot wear to permanently put me in a hurt locker. Ultimately my back problems became chronic for 3 years of my last years of service. I did purchase boots approved by the military with proper insoles… about my 6th year of service which alleviated the radiculopathy but not my back problems. Regardless I did complete 20 years of combined military service. However the damage was done and that was not the end of my physical pain challenge. My pain challenge is fully covered within Ageless MirrorAthlete “Overweight and Unfit No More.” The pain challenge is a continuing story at the end of each chapter that connects well with “how to live life to the fullest” regardless of mental, physical or spiritual pain challenges. Click on the link below to read the free preview at Amazon.com and please provide a rating review after you’ve read the book. Thank you for your support.

I’ve written articles on acupuncture and how it helped alleviate my sciatic pain. And ultimately led to complete remission of sciatica pain. Maybe it will work for you like it did for me. Just search under acupuncture in MirrorAthlete archives and you’ll find other articles.

I highly recommend if you are serving in the military or an avid hiker

Invest in a pair of Danner, or Bates boots of good thermal water resistant and good insole quality. Then throw those basic military issued, or over worn boots in the trash.

Basic Issued Military Boots were the the cause of my postural weight bearing load misalignment and cause of acute foot and back and neck pain for years. And thereafter chronic pain problems occurred in the lower back, worsened and radiated downward. I had no ideal in my twenties how important proper foot ware and customized and corrective insoles were to Neuromusculoskeletal health of the feet and the rest of my bodily alignment.

One would think with the science behind many foot related back and neck pain problems – the feet would be of great pain prevention interest and at a minimum the military would invest in proper weight bearing boots with foot analysis that custom fit proper insoles to be place within the boot. This foot pain prevention process would have a return on tax paid investment – i.e., reduced sick call incidents, higher soldier productivity and fewer disability claims that retire trained soldiers early on…, etc. Until any boot or “almost any” shoe is broken in, or has bad insoles, or none at all… this creates hot spots and/or blisters everyone can relate too. And when the feet don’t get relief, limping occurs. If something doesn’t change, pain can be felt in other weight bearing joints. I believe military issued boots should be of the highest postural and corrective weight load bearing quality, Solders work their bodies hard in the field and put their lives on the line and deserve the best gear money can buy and this includes foot wear. They also deserve to end their service commitment without pain and injury caused by inferior foot wear that also causes harm to other parts of the body.

If your feet have little to no arch, it would be wise to invest in good foot insole orthodics to provide a supportive arch and alleviate foot pain and calf cramps. Improper foot ware “when not corrected” will cause further breakdown of the foots mechanical-muscular structural integrity and then work that aggravation upward – putting pressure on other weight bearing joints. The bodies posture works to re-align itself around an articulating joint pain center. Better known as guarding. This is why you see people limping. E.g., the compromised [pain problem] side is guarded by the side not experiencing pain. Therefore it takes on an additional load burden moving the body forward, putting additional stress on the non-compromised side.

I have corrective insole in every shoe I wear. Simply rip out the manufacturers flat insole and replace it with a corrective insole – purchase them in pharmacies with free foot analysis equipment. Stand on the foot analysis machine. It analysis foot pressure points and refers an insole for less than 1/2 price of podiatrist prescribed orthodic.

When limping continues too long without correction the body adapts to compensate and create a new gait norm to alleviate pain. Realignment during guarding puts more stress on other weight bearing joints and causes an imbalanced mechanical disadvantage during the gait. When this is the case the weight bearing joints are susceptible to aggravation and injury because the anatomical posture is imbalanced and eventually becomes compromised.

Dr. Bernard Filner, MD, says, a significant number of people, including many of his patients, contemplate surgery because they hurt so badly – but most of the time, by using a Posture Control Insole can alleviate the pain and avoid surgery. … Your feet play an integral role in maintaining a pain free posture, including proper curvature of the spine. Modest changes in your posture provide the potential for complete relief of low-back pain. If you are in pain, even if you have tried custom orthotics without success, please try Posture Control Insoles before you try surgery, said Dr. Filner.

As previously mentioned – most who suffer acute to chronic sciatic symptoms experience numbness, tingly to prickly sensation to excruciating sharp – jolting pain from the buttocks down the leg and foot. … I experienced radiating pain at times as an achy to chronic electrical pain sensation which was horrible and nearly knocked my off my feet at times when it struck.

For me acute sciatica feels like short bouts of being zapped by electricity and a burning , or tingling/prickly sensation when it occurred. One way to know when the worse case pain scenario will occur… you’ll experience a numbness and swelling in your lower back and loss of sensation in parts of your leg/calf/big toe with prickly sensations. At least for me that’s how my acute converted to chronic pain episodes. When a chronic episode occurred, the pain and swelling afterwords was so severe, I stayed off my feet for a couple of days. Only anti-inflammatory, ice, physical therapy and bed rest helped get back on my feet.

I’ve known many people – including myself go years suffering with low back sciatic pain and use prescription pain killers, muscle relaxants and anti-inflammatory to treat the symptoms with rest. Other outpatient treatments include steroid injections, chiropractic and physical therapy sessions and acupuncture, etc., that work temporarily, or permanently but may/may not fix the underlying weight bearing integrity problems without surgery. Patients who ignore infrequent episodes of back pain, or sciatic symptoms… without proper diagnosis can unknowingly create an irreversible pain condition that may have been preventable and without need of surgical intervention.

Foot insoles may be the cure to remove a sciatic Pain Problem

I chose not to go through surgery. After years of working with specialists, I learned what worked for me. It was a combination of acupuncture and corrective insoles that abated my sciatic pain. I only wish I could have had someone tell me the exact treatment course that would work for me after experiencing 20 years of sciatic and radiating pain. Will this treatment course work for you? That’s hard to say. Everyone is so different. But until you make the time to get a physiatrist referral from your primary care physician you’ll likely continue the fast track pain alleviation plan like I did… pain pills, anti-inflammatory and muscle relaxants… “which won’t fix you, and your pain episodes and weight bearing bodily damage will likely worsen.”

Correcting posture at the feet first – in “most cases” when foot, knee and back problems first occur, including sciatic pain … corrective insoles are often the pain relief solution! However with this being said, there is no guarantee as you age a sciatic problem with radiating symptoms “will not” become worse. We are talking about pain alleviation through proper anatomical foot insole alignment that will not worsen a back-pain condition. But its good to know nearly all back problems can be corrected and/or alleviated without surgery when proper postural foot alignment “at the sole” is made in a timely manner.

Most back pain can be resolved without surgery if both doctors and patients are willing to try other treatments that basically help the back to heal itself (Dr. Richard Deyo, University of Washington, and Consumer Health Interactive Magazine).

Author:  Marc T. Woodard, MBA, BS Exercise Science, Captain ARNG Retired. 2009-2020 Copyright.  All rights reserved, Mirror Athlete Publishing @: http://www.mirrorathlete.com, Sign up for your Free eNewsletter.





Acupuncture How Does it Work?

21 12 2011

Explore and Live in a World Without Pain

About 5 years ago I sought acupuncture for severe low back pain.

And I only did so after all other Western medicines had failed to significantly alleviate my daily back pain.  For me, it is true that combinations of physical therapy, diet, body weight maintenance, pharmaceuticals and exercise do help.  But when you have substantial physical and physiological damage in bone and soft tissue which includes tendons, ligaments and muscle, you’ll always feel a certain amount of acute to varying chronic pain.  For those that go under the knife to correct and alleviate pain, you are also at risk of creating more pain.  Each one of us must weigh the benefit to risk ratio of surgery vs. quality living and pain management.  And in the best case surgical scenarios, significant pain relief can be experienced but not guaranteed.

Because of my unique pain story, I prefer to work around the pain trigger points through daily exercise while trying different types of therapeutic pain management programs as opposed to more surgery.  As I stated, there is no guarantee that surgery will provide a pain free experience.  With that being said, I ventured into acupuncture.  At that point in my life I would have tried any type of therapeutic pain modality to relieve my pain whether I believed in it or not.  And at that time acupuncture was something I didn’t have a lot of faith in, but I was running short of options to relieve my low back pain.  Also, at the time, surgery was too risky for me because the probability of a worst case scenario was great.

My thoughts on acupuncture and to this day, I’m not sure how it really works, but I’ve mentally focused on electrical energy flowing throughout my body to assist in the healing power.  I do know our bodies have this “Chi” energy force that travels throughout our neurological highways where energy flow becomes blocked through illness, disease and injury which creates pain.  And when acupuncture needles are inserted at various points along these energy Chi meridian pathways: energy flow that was once blocked can become unblocked.  And if these highways become unblocked your pain can be substantially alleviated.  In various cultures this energy is not only called, or known as Chi, this life energy is also known as Prana, life force, Spirit, subtle and vital energy to name a few.

For me personally, acupuncture provides pain alleviation.  I can only explain it like this, I think of my body as an electrical circuit that has shorted somewhere and is giving me pain.  I know if I can remove the shorted circuit through another parallel neurological highway I can turn off much of the pain that would otherwise be signaled back to my brain.  If you’ve had injury, the damage is still there, however, the pain signal can be turned off.

This is easy for me to visualize through my mind’s eye.  Since I have an electrical background and physiological knowledge of the body these two things appear to allow my mind to accept this healing process; regardless of whether medical science has figured out a way to prove this in trial studies.  Which to date, they have not.

Many scientists consider acupuncture a pseudoscience because it cannot be proven through Western medical scientific trial the benefit of the needles, preparatory relaxation-meditation vs. variations of protocol needle insert techniques etc.   Also under what conditions it works, or what causes it to work for some but not others.  I can completely understand the difficulty of creating a blind study where test patients wouldn’t know whether a needle was sticking them for example, while others in the study were actually stuck in order to understand the significance of the skin penetration vs. no penetration and pain alleviation benefit.

I believe if you believe something is possible, through the psychosomatic (mind/body) healing relationship, the portion of the brain that allows healing through belief and visualization also allows healing of the body through the many electrical meridian circuits throughout the body.   Understanding this relationship allows those like I to channel acupuncture needle point connections to flow energy one way while diverting it from signaling pain back to the brain.

I will tell you there are different techniques used by acupuncturists when getting stuck with these tiny micro-thin needles.  Five years ago, I experienced two different aggressive styles of Chinese acupuncture that when these needles were manipulated into my low back caused great pain when setting the needles.  Thereafter, electrical current was added through wire leads with electrical source equipment sending pulsating electrical stimulation.  Although low voltage electricity is added within some therapy sessions, this is not always the case or necessary for acupuncture to work.

When I first experienced acupuncture, the hard manipulative needle insertion technique although painful seemed to turn-off a lot of the severe pain at the time.  After 10 sessions I called it good.  And because of the tenth session where a needle hit a sensitive nerve in my low back causing me to jolt, which was followed by a back spasm.  I didn’t go back after that.  This is because I hyper extended my low back while lying face down on the table.  Man, did that hurt; I was sweating bullets while that needle was manipulated into place.  I did finish that therapy session.

Thereafter and rightfully so, I had fear of going back to an acupuncturist and didn’t ask for another referral.  However, years later with a bit more education under my belt, I sought out a soft Chinese style acupuncturist that focused on various modalities prior to needle insertion.  Sensitive areas of the body to touch do much better with a soft style preparation acupuncturist prior to needle insertion.  Very light massage, relaxation and suction cup appearing devices to increase blood circulation allow for easy insertion without needle manipulation in hyper-sensitive painful areas using a shallow needle insertion technique.  Thereafter electro stimulation to the needles is applied in some sessions while not others.  This technique works well for me to remove the severe pain.

You ask why I went back after a jolt that hurt my back 5 years ago.  Because, even after that experience, I knew I received a pain relief benefit, before and after the jolt.  The years following that session, I knew I received significant pain relief.  To this day, my back is more pain free than had I not received any acupuncture.  Yet when you look at my x-rays and MRI’s, the injury sites throughout my back continue to worsen.  I don’t want the surgery if I can continue to manage the pain with various pain relief techniques.  So I figured, why not give it another shot.  Life must continue on, so I look for therapy that works in order to avoid surgery, so I can stay productive.

As of recent, I’ve gone through another series of acupuncture using the shallow needle penetration with suction cups, and electrical stimulation to increase blood flow after the needles are set to include meditation prior to and during the session.  The sharp unbearable radiating pain in my neck is gone.  However, the chronic achy dull arthritic pain is always present throughout my back which I can manage.  For me this is significant pain relief for which I’m thankful my health insurance pays.

I’ve read a few blogger sites on the benefits/to no benefits of using acupuncture.  The feelings on acupuncture are mixed throughout the medical and general community.  It’s considered by many that believe in Eastern medicine modalities as a valued natural science that can heal and alleviate pain and cure disease.  To Western medicine practitioners, many professionals and lay persons believe at best acupuncture is a pseudoscience that’s falls into categories more like magic and faith healing.

Instead of trying to convince you that acupuncture works, I think it is best to leave you with the following insight.  Like Pranic healing (link listed below), there is much our modern medical science does not understand and has no way to prove through clinical trials how life “Chi” energy actually heals and alleviates pain.  But to make a comparison of the misunderstood not too long ago, one must simply recall the thought process, “it was impossible for man to fly, let alone sore through space and land on the moon.”  Or, until Penicillin as an effective antibiotic was discovered; many with serious disease through infection were doomed to die with no hope of a cure.  During the times, these beliefs could think no other way with any solution that would ever change the outcome until science proved otherwise many years later.

I believe there is much in the world science does not understand about the human mind and body.  Let me give you one more relevant example.  It has long been said people on earth only use 10% of their brains capacity.   This too is controversial due to the “natural selection” concept.  Since the brain tissue has metabolically evolved throughout time, and to lose 90% of capacity would have catastrophic consequences on the human regulation of the body is the controversy in dispelling the 10% brain capacity use.

So maybe we are using a 100% of metabolic brain function, but maybe not 100% healing function within another part of the brain.  Is this line of reasoning possible?  Of course it is.  But then again, how do you prove this scientifically?  As of to date, science can’t.  So in relating this line of reasoning to the naysayer’s; acupuncture is just as valid for those that believe it works, so it works!  Just because a scientific relative blind study to prove it works has not been accomplished to date, does not mean it doesn’t work.  Science to date does not have the knowledge to empirically prove it.

Let’s assume our brains have room to evolve to make use of our Chi energy, even though science cannot tell you how it works for sure.  So if we dare to think there is room for evolving of the brain-body connection, we could think the following:  if science does not know how the healing Chi energy works using needles, there is no way to test each of our healing brain-body connections.  Each one of us that experiences a pain relief benefit may use a different part of the brain, brain function, or cognitive skill connection to the body when the needles are inserted, which activate the healing life force connection.  This would explain why it works for some and not others.  Others may be more or less in touch with this part of the healing brain-body connection.  I’m not sure how science would test these variables in a blind study.  Here lies the empirical sample test dilemma in proving the healing benefits connection using acupuncture.

So I’d say to you, if you have severe pain and have exhausted Western medicine resources, regardless of the negative opinion about acupuncture, what have you got to lose?  What doesn’t work for others may work for you?  You may have the ability to unlock a Chi force that is hidden within 90% of an untapped brain function that others like I are able to unlock.  And consider this, there must be some validity to it because many HMO practitioners refer pain patients to acupuncturists whether they completely believe in it or not.  And many health insurers cover the cost!  So there must be something to it.

I know surgery and/or chiropractics is not the answer for “my” pain relief without causing further damage to my weight bearing structure.  I’ve been able to avoid much of the pain pitfalls that these two practices, had I accepted the referrals and treatments may have worsened my pain story.  The key is, get more than one, or two opinions before you do something radical if you have a choice.  You cannot reverse damage caused through over manipulation of bone, tendon and ligaments, and a surgery that went bad.

I believe one day science will prove through relative and valid empirical trials how and why acupuncture works for many patients.  But like Einstein’s Theory of Relativity “Time was no longer uniform and absolute.” Physics could no longer be understood as space by itself, hence space and time was also dependant on velocity.  Until this time Isaac Newton’s physics and astronomy stood as a 200-year-old theory of mechanics.  So you see through time man evolves in many different depths of knowledge and understanding within the world we live, as well as the bodies we live in.

Listed below, I’ve left some links that further explain how acupuncture and Pranic healing may help you to alleviate your pain by activating a part of your brain that to date is unexplained scientifically, but for many this healing practice works.

If you want to try acupuncture and your primary physician does not believe in it, and won’t refer you, or it’s not covered in your health insurance program, there are 3 things you can do.  During your employer annual health insurance selections pick a provider or policy that covers acupuncture within its listed services.  Or, if you have coverage for this service, but your referring physician does not believe in acupuncture and won’t refer you, request a new primary care physician.  Or request from your current primary care physician to be referred to a physiatrist.  Physiatrists are pain management specialists with an arsenal of pain modality resources for which one, if covered by your HMO will refer you to an acupuncturist if you’re willing to give it a try.

References:

Woodard, Marc.  Why a Physiatrist Offers the Best Rehabilitative Course.  Mirror Athlete’s Fitness Secrets!  June 23, 2011. http://mirrorathlete.com/blog/2011/06/23/why-a-physiatrist-offers-the-best-rehabilitative-course/

Craig, Gary.  Acupuncture Meridians Pathways of Chi Energy.  Healing with EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques.  Website: http://www.healing-with-eft.com/acupuncture-meridians.html

Woodard, Marc.  What is Pranic Healing and Does it Work?  Mirror Athlete’s Fitness Secrets! July 23, 2010. http://mirrorathlete.com/blog/2010/07/23/what-is-pranic-healing-and-does-it-work/

Novella, Steven.  Does Acupuncture Work or Not?  Neurologica blog.  Sep 25, 2007.http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/does-acupuncture-work-or-not/

Woodamarc.  “Pain Depression Origins.” HubPages.  http://woodamarc.hubpages.com/hub/Pain-Depression-Origins

Physiotherapy Adelaide Site.  How Does Acupuncture Work?  Copyright 2011. http://www.howdoesacupuncturework.com/

Do We Use all of our Brain Power?  Google answer site. http://answers.google.com/answers/threadview/id/751682.html

Marc T. Woodard, MBA, BS Exercise Science, USA Medical Services Officer, CPT, RET. 2011 Copyright, All rights reserved, Mirror Athlete Publishing @: http://www.mirrorathlete.com,  Sign up for your Free eNewsletter.