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Sciatica and skiing

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
My wife has been suffering from really severe sciatica for the past two weeks. Chiropractor and acupuncture have eased things today but only last weekend she was so bad the pain sent her into a crazy panic type attack and she honestly thought she was having a heart attack. The pain caused her to physically vomit it's been bad!

Anyhooo we are due to fly to Switzerland a week today for eight days skiing in Jungfrau and my question is whether anyone else on SH is a sufferer with sciatica and how badly skiing is affected by it. We are at the point in the next couple of days where we have to decide whether to cancel or not. All costs are covered on my insurance. My concern is that she gets a bit better well enough to go but then it gets aggravated and ruins our holiday as she'll doubtless be cooped up in the apartment alone while I ski with the kids. Also as it's a pre-existing injury it will affect any insurance claim should we ski and it goes badly wrong.
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i had sciatica and it was the worst pain i have ever had, i could not walk because of the pain and even had to crawl to the toilet, its a tough decision you have to make, i went skiing with my girlfriend who was ill at the time, she said you go skiing and i"ll potter about in the chalet, but whilst i was skiing i was worried about her and didnt enjoy it, and when i didnt go skiing to stay with her, she felt guilty because i wasnt skiing.
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Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
I have huge sympathy.

I didn't have sciatica, but a lower back that would go into meltdown and totally seize up.

It was a chronic condition that I've had since a teenager, but which got gradually worse and worse....finally culminating with back surgery for a herniated disc (Fusion of L3/L4).

Skiing would usually free things up.....but as the condition got worse, this no longer happened. In fact, after a few days, I'd be looking for an Osteopath, in the hope of getting my lower back out of spasm.

It got to the point that I would head to the resort armed with a list of Chiropractors/Osteopaths and Physios. I finally gave up when I was getting daily treatment in order to survive and taking a month for things to settle a little, after returning.

Now, 4 years post surgery, I'm back skiing again (now 3rd year in a row).....and treasure every year I manage to go.

I find it very hard to advise you one way or another, though she needs to be very careful, as her back has got very inflamed.

You need to find if there is a more serious underlying cause that is triggering this episode and go with medical advice....a really good physio may also be able to help.

Personally, I have always taken pills with me and given it a go....but it would be foolhardy of me to encourage you to do anything reckless.

Good luck with whatever you decide.


Last edited by Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see? on Wed 1-02-17 23:34; edited 4 times in total
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In my infinite ignorance I used to think that sciatica sufferers were prone to exaggerate their pain, until I had the "sciatica experience" in November. My wife even resorted to calling an ambulance one evening as I was in so much pain- paramedics gave me gas and air and various painkillers. Agony for three weeks(obviously I am a softie), struggled to walk, no feeling in right hamstring and foot- thought my New Year ski trip was in grave doubt. Diazepam and Amytriptiline helped a little in terms of sleep. However- eventually, after 3 weeks did manage some rehab type exercises recommended by physio(rather painful) and the skiing itself did me a "world of good", covered over 200km on pistes and no issues, the actual movement and adrenaline seemed to ease off the pain and improved my mobility. The biggest issue was flying, cooped up on the plane and back/hamstring causing all sorts of problems, had to keep standing up in the aisle. I would be concerned about your wife if she hasn't got the pain under control yet. If she can "manage" the pain with on the flight out/transfer then a week in the Jungfrau will surely do her some good? Good luck- take plenty of drugs if you go!
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One last long shot - might be worth a go. Sometimes that kind of pain can relate to where the sciatic nerve goes through the piriformis muscle (that's how it was explained to me - I might have got it wrong....). If that's the cause, a skilled deep massage therapist can get to it - if really brutal with an elbow or more kindly with thumbs. Hurts like buggery..... but can do the trick.
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Personally, I'd go with the insurance payout and rebook something last minute in April if things calm down.

I've just had my first real bout of sciatica, which put me on the kitchen floor on all fours in agony, and I'm grateful that I am recovering really quickly before skiing in a months time. If it is anything like as bad as you describe I'd bin skiing in a weeks time, with the chairlifts, bending to make a turn, potential impact from any kind of fall, it would be a nightmare and insurance implications you can't get away from as the medical records will have it down presumably already from recent treatment.

All advice welcome on dealing with it including sensible exercises, as it has knocked me sideways this week.
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Hmmm, maybe I'd consult someone with an actual medical qualification? (since you haven't tried that route yet?)
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@under a new name, yeh coz we hadn't thought of that. Been seeing the doctor and chiropractor for two weeks!

The point of my op was to get a point of reference from other skiers who suffer and if and how they manage, is it worth persevering with the trip or not.

Thanks for irritating me! Evil or Very Mad
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I have experience of this. Almost two years ago I woke up and couldnít move. I was taken to hospital by ambulance and told that it was sciatica. I was given a bunch of pain killers (which didnít help much!) and eventually sent home. I didnít have an mri, but several doctors, chiropractors and physios have all said that it is the result of a prolapsed disk. That episode took about 5 months to get over. I couldnít imagine skiing during that time. I had a less severe episode a few months later beginning last January. By the time of my skiing trip in February I was mobile enough to drive down so I went, figuring I would take it easy. As it happens, I only felt in pain when walking or standing, so skiing and sitting on ski lifts was fine with the only real problem being the queues for the lifts at times (it was half term!). This year, as luck would have it, I am also in the middle of an episode. Every time is slightly different and I worry that it will affect my skiing this time, so am stocking up on painkillers to at least take the edge off.

Itís really difficult to advise whether you should go. Everyone is different and I know that some sufferers have problems sitting for long periods making travel difficult. Fortunately this does not apply to me which I am grateful for as am driving again. I know that during my first episode, I couldnít have skied. I went on a summer holiday during that time and just about managed to hobble from the pool to the bar every day. In my case, it seems to have taken a long time to recover. I didnít notice much progress during a week Ė rather I measured it in months. If it were me, therefore, I would probably be cancelling if the pain is that bad and doesnít seem to be improving. Having said that, there are various things you can try. As said, a deep massage may help, as might painkillers Ė I took a cocktail of Naproxen and co-codamol. There are also various stretches that are supposed to help. I have tried all of these and none of them have really helped me. In my case, the only thing that has helped is allowing sufficient time for healing, keeping as mobile as possible, and when able to, doing some exercise to strengthen the core. One thing I havenít tried, but have heard works, is an epidural steroid injection. There are various risks associated with this, but I have heard that it can completely relieve the pain for months.

On the question of insurance, I have travel insurance with my bank account and last year I did call them ahead of the trip to inform them of the condition. They confirmed that my cover was unaffected by this.

Whatever you decide to do I wish you the best of luck. Your wife has my full sympathy as it really is a horrible condition. Perhaps you could wait and cancel nearer the time if necessary, and as has been suggested try to arrange a last minute trip at a later date if she recovers sufficiently?
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Even if you wife is "managing" her pain with the use of painkillers, in my experience, skiing whilst under the influence of very strong painkillers like dihydrocodeine, or muscle relaxants like diazepam is not to be recommended. If she is in that much pain now, I think skiing in a weeks time is being a tad optimistic. Like barbossine suggests, it's not just the action of skiing she has to contend with, its airports, humping luggage around, sitting on a plane, transfers, carrying skis etc etc that can be as much of a problem.
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@jirac18, I'm pain free at the moment but have had varying degrees of sciatic pain for much of the last three years, including ending up in A&E just beacuse of the pain. I guess the answer to this depends upon how/when your wife's sciatica develops. The last time I was skiing with reasonably serious sciatica was a couple of years ago and my experience was as follows:
Sitting in restaurants was painful after a few minutes
Chairlifts and gondola's were painful, but tolerable.
Skiing itself was completely pain free.
The flight out was agony (until I popped some serious painkillers).

As for the sciatica itself, then I'm afraid I'm slightly in @under a new name's camp. I have a lot of faith in GP's but this isn't an area they can do much with. Chiropractors and osteopaths are no more medical 'professionals' than acupuncturists or homeopaths. Chiropractice is an alternative/complementary medicine and, unlike homeopathy, they genuinely can do more harm than good.

If your wife's sciatica is being caused by a disc compressing the nerve, I think it usually is, then first of all I'd suggest a physio but the really brilliant 'cure' for many of the these problems is a caudal epidural. They are excellent. I had an MRI to identify the exact cause of the sciatica then the next week I had a caudal epidural under sedation. 80% of the pain had gone upon waking and the remainder disappeared within a week. You will struggle to get that treatment quickly under the NHS, but if you have health insurance or can self-fund then I'd consider. Sciatica is truly horrible.
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PollSki wrote:
One thing I havenít tried, but have heard works, is an epidural steroid injection. There are various risks associated with this, but I have heard that it can completely relieve the pain for months.


I had injections (Steroid/Analgesic) both into the Facet Joints and Discs....in my case with little effect.....but they were pursuing the least intrusive options before putting me under the knife. Though a friend had good success with them and is still going well, 25 years later...though he has to do a lot of swimming and stretching to keep supple.

Injections are often used more as a diagnostic tool in order to pinpoint where the problem is ie. if you have Facet Joint injections that have little effect, then it is not the problem. They also have an effect that is likely to be temporary.

I spent years going to Physio Therapists, Physical Therapists, Chiropractors, Osteopaths, Acupuncturists, Mindfulness Coaches and even Faith Healers.....what I should have done is gone to an Orthopaedic Surgeon and get an MRI scan, many years ago.
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I have been suffering from sciatica like symptoms for the last 4 months. The best diagnoses so far is that my pirformis muscle is in spasm. Now awaiting result of a MRI scan. Keeping going using Tramodal,Naproxen and Amitriptyline. I have skied twice this year without too much pain. However walking with luggage is a problem and luckily friends have been most helpful. Perhaps the Adrenalin helps to take ones mind off the pain. Like @Old Fartbag, I have had all sorts of treatment without success. Fingers crossed as I have another trip planned for the end of this month. Perhaps there is such a thing as a mountain "high" which kicks in with the painkillers.
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Yeah, well, @jirac18, you didn't say you'd been to see a doctor, did you?

Sciatica does seem to be truly horrible. Orthopeadic surgeon, MRI, etc. required. FTZ's experience may be interesting - but it's a heck of a gamble to find out that she's not pain free during skiing!

I guess questions are 1. will skiing aggravate it further? If not, 2. can anything at least short term be done to short term fix? if not 3. can she ski safely with adequate analgesia on board to have fun?

All need expert input ... although 3. also needs her opinion, clearly.
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Dear jirac18,
I have had quite a bit of sciatica and whilst the drugs are useful, as are the cortisone jabs, I have found that a simple "tens" machine is well worth a try. It might just work by taking your mind off the pain but who cares and for those 10 minutes skiing down the mountain - it's well worth it. Turn it off when sitting on the lift and then you are ready to go again
Nice to know that it doesn't mess your body up either and the cost is just a few batteries.
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Dear jirac18,
I have had quite a bit of sciatica and whilst the drugs are useful, as are the cortisone jabs, I have found that a simple "tens" machine is well worth a try. It might just work by taking your mind off the pain but who cares and for those 10 minutes skiing down the mountain - it's well worth it. Turn it off when sitting on the lift and then you are ready to go again
Nice to know that it doesn't mess your body up either and the cost is just a few batteries.
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 Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
I had a bulging disc a few years ago which caused two long years of Sciatica. Briefly, forget chiropractors or any other witch doctors. MRI scan is all you need to tell you what is impinging on sciatic nerve.
there is no real cure because heres no blood flowing thru discs, so they cant heal themselves very well.
THE cure is exercise...... to strengthen your core muscles. Imagine your spine is doing all the supporting of your body without any help from middle aged under used abdominal and core muscles.
I cured it by walking between 5 and 10 k a day. rebuilt all pelvic abdominal and structural muscles to take pressure off spine.

I skied. skiing was the best sport for it, because you use core muscles whilst up right. so long as you don't jump off things, theres little impact on the spine.
get fit to beat it.
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 Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
@jirac18, I've had this. The general advice I've had from various quarters is that movement is the best cure. I skied with it and it did help, as did riding my MTB uphill ( not necessarily downhill ). If you can, get skiing.

@pam w,
Quote:
Hurts like buggery.....
I'm sure you're right, but can't confirm this.
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@under a new name, What I should have made clearer is that my sciatica only came on when sitting or remaining still. If Jirac18's wife is like me, in that she is pain free when walking, then I expect skiing will be OK. If she is in pain when walking then skiing will probably hurt too. Consequently, there isn't a huge risk in deciding whether to go or not. One can make an informed decision.
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@foxtrotzulu, good info!
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@Steilhang, Laughing Evil or Very Mad
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So @jirac18, what did you decide to do?
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We've decided to go. Wife's back has steadily improved and is currently pain free and no spasms in a good few days now so fingers crossed this bout has passed.
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@jirac18,

Ive had sciatica quite few times. Its not nice.
Ive skied with it aswell.

Sciatica will almost always get better on its own but it is not unusual for it to take 6 to 12 weeks.
The best way to manage it is to try and get the pain at a tolerable level and then get on with it. Be sensible not to do lots of flexion and lifting /twisting.

Strategies that have worked for me include:

Regular pain relief- use what ever is required. Tier 1 is paracetamol, Tier 2 anti-inflammatory drugs like nurofen, tier 3 is Opiods. Tramadol is very good bit requires a prescription. Suppression of the pain is a good thing to do as it prevents "wind up " of the pain part of your nervous system.

I have always found a TENS machine can take the edge off it and have skied with a TENS attached.

Then physio to try and free up the muscle spasm that accompanies the sciatica.

One year i had a steroid injection that worked so well i was skiing three days later when i had been struggling to work.

Id try and avoid surgery unless intolerable as the results are no different a year whether you have surgery or not.

Jonathan Bell
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@Jonathan Bell, Very interested in your post. I have been suffering now for 4 months, taking prescription painkillers and regular physio , with no improvement. I have skied for 2 separate weeks and can ride a bike with not too much discomfort although walking is a problem and am presently awaiting the results of a scan. I had never heard of TENS and as there seems to be quite a few on the market is there any particular machine you would recommend? With thanks.
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peter w wrote:
@Jonathan Bell, Very interested in your post. I have been suffering now for 4 months, taking prescription painkillers and regular physio , with no improvement. I have skied for 2 separate weeks and can ride a bike with not too much discomfort although walking is a problem and am presently awaiting the results of a scan. I had never heard of TENS and as there seems to be quite a few on the market is there any particular machine you would recommend? With thanks.


I can strongly recommend a caudal epidural/steroid injection if you have the chance. Pretty much instant cure.

TENS - I think they are all much the same in terms of efficacy. I just went for the BOots one most recently. There doesn't seem to be any real evidence they work, but they are cheap and harmless so worth a try. If you ski with one, do make sure you can access it quickly. If a pad starts to detach then you end up with all the current going through a much smaller area and it can feel like someone putting 240v through you! Agony!!!!

Jonathan B knows more about everything than I and he may have a more informed view.
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It's surprising how things can get missed, and even experienced chiropractors etc. and medics are happy to do all sorts of things without addressing the underlying cause. I used to get bad sciatica and back pain, made worse when I took up skiing. In my case, it wasn't until I had a medical exam for a new job that the doctor measured my femur (thigh bone) lengths and discovered one was 12mm shorter than the other, although my body length on the short side was only 2-3mm less. I was referred to a sports medicine facility and they made me shoe and boot inserts to compensate, plus gave me some exercises to strengthen my weak side. I've not had problems since.

I'm not saying that this is the same cause of your problems, but that it is worth persevering to be sure there's not an underlying cause. There are loads of people who will happily treat the symptoms, but this doesn't get you anywhere in the long term. In practical terms, perhaps it's worth budgeting for a day at a specialist sports clinic just so that you come out of it knowing there's nothing wrong with your basic anatomy.
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@peter w, @foxtrotzulu,

i think i got mine from Boots. they are all much the same.
They contain instructions. Id turn mine up until it was a bit uncomfortable.
Replacement pads are easily obtained - you should be able to get a few das out of them if you stick them back on the plastic they come with.
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