BPS #048: What Happens If Sciatica Is Left Untreated?

Whooyah! This is Robin from the Back Pain Secret Podcast and today, we are going to talk about what happens if sciatica is left untreated?

Before I start, I have to tell a funny story. So like I told you guys, on the podcast yesterday, I drove off to my mom. I’m spending two or three days here before my family comes, Linda and my two kids.

So yesterday, I did the podcast. I just flicked the camera on, and there was an old pair of underwear hanging up in the back. So my wife, when I posted this online, she got on my case. She gave me a call and told me, “Robin, you’ve got to shape up, man. You can’t be posting stuff when you have your underwear in the background.”

So today, I got some new scenery, okay? I got the big wall here, with a big bookshelf. So I hope that’s there for you honey. I promise. No more underwear.

And if you’re just listening to the podcast, I’m also doing the video podcast, so if you want to go back and see that, it’s like Episode 46, or something like that.

Anyway, today, what happens if sciatica is left untreated? To give you a bit of a backstory here, Stan was a patient of mine that I treated about a year ago. That’s not his real name, of course, but I’m just using that.

So he’s around 40 and he has back pain and he’s a truck driver. He’s been a truck driver for the last 10 years. He’s putting a lot of miles behind him. He’s up in the truck just driving all the time, 8-10 hours a day.

And also something he was telling me that he always used like he’s wallet. He had his wallet in his back pocket, his right pocket. So that’s something definitely you need to take out, if you’re listening to this and you do that.

Anyway, he was in his truck and he needed to use the restroom. So he turned off the truck and went out. It’s a big truck he has and if you’ve seen these big trucks, whenever you go up and down the truck, there’s quite a big step, okay?

That puts a lot of stress especially if you’re doing it a couple of hundred times a week, right? So when he was going to go down from the truck, something popped in his back. It was so bad that he actually had to stand and just catch his breath before he continued to the restroom.

It was like a sharp pain in his buttock, more or less like someone shoved a knife into his right buttocks. He didn’t really think too much about it. He said, “Well, I probably pulled a muscle or something like that.”

So he continued and went to the bathroom. He went up to the truck again. He took some painkillers, and he just continued to drive. This went on for a few months, but the pain started to also increase, go up to his back. He started to feel a little tingling sensation in his right thigh, but he continued to drive.

During the night, it was hard for him to find a comfortable position, and it was also hard for him to sit and drive the truck, actually. So he went in to his doctor, and the doctor told him, “You know, we’re going to b do an MRI and based on what you’re telling me, I think you have like a herniated disc or a slipped disc, something like that.”

So the MRI results came back and they showed very conclusively that he had a herniated disc on level L4-L5, a very, very common place. So this was like the worst news he’s ever had, especially at this this time in his life.

Internally guys, he felt really frustrated, angry, and he blamed himself, because his wife, his kids, they were on him, constantly. “You need to move around, stand a bit more you know. You need to think about what you eat.”

He was quite overweight. He was over like 200 pounds and he was ignoring his diet. So he knew that he needed to do this switch, okay? The problem was that he was feeling a lot of stress, because he had this truck and it was his own truck and he just purchased another truck.

He had a friend that was driving that but he needed to do quite a lot of driving to enable him to get his company up and running, especially when he bought this new truck. He had this stress.

But externally, when I met Stan, he was like cracking jokes. He was making like [sounds like tad] jokes about himself. He was more or less trying just to use comedy or humor to take stress off and just make fun of everything around him so he would feel less stress, you know.

And that actually worked for a while, but it’s not good to do that. Okay, guys? Especially if you have a problem. You need to be able to laugh at it and maybe even crack a few jokes, but you can’t like that’d be your standard thing for everything that comes up. It’s just a joke. I’m fat, I’m lazy, I don’t want to move around. It’s not good for you, you know. Especially if you’re doing it constantly day in and day out.

You should be very careful with what you say about yourself, you know, because that stuff that gets — internally, it destroys you. And you’re just putting yourself down. But that’s the way Stan was. He’s always cracking jokes about himself.

So anyway, like this is a month back, a month and a half maybe. He was on the road and he’d been out like driving for 10 days, not straight, but he was on the road. He was sleeping in the cabin in the truck. He was eating a lot of crap and he was drinking also. Not while he was driving but he was telling me that he drank like five or six cans of beer every night before he went to sleep there. He was eating and he wasn’t moving and it was just horrible.

What happened was that he started to feel this radiation all the way down to his foot now, you know, and the pain was so bad that even like strong painkillers that he had prescription for, they weren’t helping him at all.

And also the thing was that when he was taking these strong pain medications, he couldn’t really drive on them. He had problem focusing and stuff. So he understood that that wasn’t good. That wasn’t like a long-term solution for him to take these pills and just trying to do this kind of work. okay?

So he was really, really – we’ll say, at least, when he came in to me you know, he was quite down around the whole thing. It was just destroying him that he had this chance now to — he had worked a few years to make enough money to get this extra truck up running so someone else could drive that. He could make more money, but right now, when he had this pain, he was going to need to cut back on his own driving.

That meant, what he told me anyway, that he wasn’t going to be able to keep the other truck going. So basically, the whole company needed to shut down. That’s what he was telling me. He needed to drive you know, five or six times, six days a week in order for everything to work.

That’s on the one side but the other thing, the big conflict was that he knew that his back wasn’t able to do what he needed it to do. He was sitting too much. He wasn’t getting enough exercise. He was eating crap, okay? It was this big, big conflict he had internally that he was struggling with.

And when you have patients like that you know, when they’re in a financial situation, it’s hard to give them — you can give that advice, but usually, they don’t really listen to you because it’s this pleasure of pain thing.

He understood that he needed to make a change but the pain of giving up his whole company and financial security was greater. So I told Stan “You know, in my opinion buddy, you need to really like chill out a bit and go on sick leave and do all that.”

But he told me “That’s not an option, okay?” So we did kind of a mixture. So the advice I gave him was the following. I said “Stan, okay I understand what you’re saying. You hate exercise. You need to work. So what I want you to do buddy is that every morning, before breakfast, you need to have like twenty-five to thirty-minute walk. You never miss that and at lunch, if you stop you know, you need to go for a fifteen-minute walk and then also stretch your hamstrings a bit. Then before you go to bed or before dinner, you need to go for half an hour walk, okay?”

So all in all, he’s walking over an hour a day. He’s still driving. So he said “Well, I can do that.” “Also I want you to keep one of these, like one of these bottles of water. So you need to drink two of these each day, just to get more fluids in your body.”

So he did that as well. This is like two liters. So he drank two liters of water each day just to get the system going, and I told him you know, he asked me how to lose weight and stuff.

I told him “Stan”, he’s been on all kinds of different diets and stuff. So I told him “Stan, what I think you should do is just decrease the stuff that you’re eating with 50%. So if you have two hamburgers, have one hamburger. If you’re drinking six beers, drink three beers. Just keep it very, very simple in your head and also in your lifestyle. Then if you get that to work and you see results, then you can increase this as we go.”

So a lot of times when you have patients, back pain patients and they come in with these crazy goals, you know, they want to like get a super body in 30 days and stuff but they’re not really willing to put in the work, or their lifestyle is in a way that it’s not possible for them to do that right now, and they haven’t really made the decision 100% to make the switch for a more healthier lifestyle, then it’s better in my opinion, anyway, to do it gradually.

So this routine that was put up for Stan is something that he’s been doing now for a few months’ time, and it’s working for him. He could do more, of course, but this is something that he can do right now, and he also came back to me. We had a chat on the phone and he was telling me that he’s made a two-year plan now. The two-year plan for him is to continue on this for two years and then eventually, he’s going to try to hire someone to drive his truck so he’s going to be able to not be in the truck as much and do more admin stuff and should become more active to spend more time with his family and all of that, you know, eat healthier. So hopefully, that’s going to work out for Stan.

Back to the question. What happens if sciatica is left untreated? Well guys, it’s not good if the sciatica nerve is — you have pressure on the sciatica nerve like for months and years.

You can definitely get permanent damage, but if you’ve had more, like if you’d pressure on the nerve and you feel this tingling sensation more than three months, you should definitely visit like a physiotherapist or a doctor or something to get it checked out.

Like I said with Stan here you know, it’s hard. He didn’t want to have an operation and the fear of losing his whole company was greater. He visited the orthopedic surgeon and the orthopedic surgeon didn’t want to operate on him right now and told him basically also he needed to move and needed to lose some weight and all that.

But we’ll see what happens with Stan. He’s moving in the right direction and what I’m getting at here guys is that if you’re the type of person that don’t really like exercise and you know you overeat and you have like a bit of extra weight on, don’t be too hard on yourself. Do things gradually then.

It’s better just to keep it very, very simple and not put too much stress on it and build up gradually so you can do more and more.

Okay guys. That’s it for today. Take care I love you and I’ll see you tomorrow and guys remember, you’re just one step away from healing your back pain. Bye-bye.

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Robin BackPainExpert

Physiotherapists & Back Pain Expert

Twenty years ago I was lucky to survive a serious hockey injury. In a sport where big men zoomaround on hard ice and solid wood sticks are slung furiously, a difficult back injury is what every player fears.
It took a long time for me to climb back to a normal life. But when I did, I was determined to spend the rest of his life helping back pain victims everywhere.
As a physiotherapist and back pain expert I have treated thousands of patients over 20 years, built a respected back pain clinic, created the site BackPainSecrets.Com and authored the book “Back Pain Secrets.”
Learn more about me here.