Sciatica - what is it and is it ok to run?

ftm42ftm42 ✭✭✭
edited May 2019 in Health + Injury
Been suffering from mild sciatica since at least January 2019. I ran a 56 minute 10K in Feb with slight pain in back which radiated down both hamstrings. Was running through it - oddly it seems / seemed to help as I find walking is more uncomfortable than running?

However, I had a bad incident after a yoga session a week ago last Thursday [so about 10 days ago] when getting up from the floor to go back to work! So not the yoga, but the getting up again! Hobbled back to work with a colleague who was also at the yoga session. Got worse during the afternoon but managed to get home OK.

The following morning was in so much pain I could hardly move, let alone walk. A nurse friend kindly gave me some diazapan which helped a little but didn't take the pain away. Just made me sleepy. Seen an osteopath and my regular sports physio who both said 'sciatica' but suggested that running should be OK as long as I'm gentle with myself but I'm not good at that!

Yesterday, we spent the day in London at a concert where I was up dancing a lot of the time [partly as I liked the band, but partly as my right hip and knee were sore and sitting down did not help]. This morning, I had seized up again - not as bad as first flare-up, [right hip felt very tight and some numbness down right hamstring] but bad enough to take some high-dose ibuprofen. Then seemed to take nearly 3 hours of walking about, stretching and doing  yoga session for sciatica before it calmed down.

Been for a gentle stroll in the woods with hubby and the dog this afternoon and still feel sore, but not the pain from this morning.

I stopped running altogether last week. I had a training schedule written up for me, but after discussion with my coach, he suggested that I take May 'off' running altogether and just rest and stretch. Plan is to pick up again in June. Having spent nearly 4 years sorting out a chronic knee problem, I am angry that my body is now letting me down in a different way.

Does anyone run with sciatica, or is it a hopeless cause? Should I just be patient and hope? After a few years of DNS's, it looks like most of my summer 'races / fun runs' are likely to be DNSs again.


  • YnnecYnnec ✭✭✭
    edited May 2019
    ftm42 said:

    Seen an osteopath and my regular sports physio who both said 'sciatica' but suggested that running should be OK as long as I'm gentle with myself
    I think that's the answer to your question that you don't want to hear. 
    ftm42 said:

    A nurse friend kindly gave me some diazapan which helped a little but didn't take the pain away. Just made me sleepy.
    I'm a lover of benzos, but don't go down that route if you can avoid it.

    All the best
  • CalletCallet ✭✭
    Everyone’s back problems are different but don’t get too despondent. In my case, I’ve suffered from chronic back pain for about 25 years and bizarrely I’ve found the best way to keep it at bay is by running. My osteopath has come to the same conclusion that movement such as running actually helps in my case. Like you, I’ve also had a few times where back spasms make it impossible to do much, and I’ve also had to resort to diazepam and even coproxemal (before they banned it) but after a short time of rest I’ve managed to resume running. Sounds like you're doing the right things by practising yoga. I’ve ve found that ice packs and heated wheatbags also really help alot. Obviously we’re all different so it’s tricky to generalise but keep the faith - it certainly is possible.
    Good luck! :)
  • ftm42ftm42 ✭✭✭

    Ran a 5K charity run last night - right knee 'went' at 2K but I carried on. Some cramps in legs. Once I finished, iced knee; stretched out back etc.

    This morning back feels like it's seizing up again and is about to pop. [It did go 2 weeks ago]

    'Trainer' says stop altogether; sportsphysio [herself a runner] says - keep stretching and take next run really easy; DH is a total non-exerciser [he's very overweight and let's be frank, lazy when it comes to anything that might raise his heartrate] and is totally unsympathetic.

    I'm just confused. Should I stop altogether and get fat on chocolate; keep running but do less and slower [even though I do little and don't run fast]; find something else to do after 35+ years as a runner?

    I've been doing really well - PBd at parkrun and at 10K in Feb, but all with nagging pain all the time. I'm sure mostly down to having a desk job for the last 3 years, so I get so stiff.

    Feeling v down [rum n coke sort of down] and could do with some positive thoughts please!

    Mileage for this month = 8.7 yes, that's all
  • TTTT ✭✭✭
    I feel your pain, I have many DNS. How about taking a complete break, keeping fit by cycling, swimming and really concentrating on SC? Then start again with C25K? Alternatively do you have access to an Alter G treadmill? Might be a way back as you can increase and decrease the intensity really quickly and also work on your style. 
  • ftm42ftm42 ✭✭✭
    Thought I'd give you a little update. I ran a 10K last weekend [against advice] that I have done 2x before, so knew what to expect. At 4K I started walk/run/jogging and didn't get going again. I finished 30 seconds over the hour [a good 5+ minutes off my usual time] and then almost collapsed. Tried to lie down and stretch but just could not stop the world spinning. I had been in my 'usual' pain, but up to now, I have never had to actually resort to walking. On top of this I didn't help myself by running a morning 10K after a 'breakfast' of 1 painkiller, sip of tea and a shortcake biscuit. [stoopid]

    Fortunately a fellow club runner's son was at the finish and I sent him off to get me an ice-cream for a much needed sugar hit. Once I'd had that I was OK.

    I have since stopped any exercise altogether [apart from walking to work and the odd cycle ride] to try to get things to settle. After chatting to my GP [on coach's advice] she thinks it could be spinal stenosis [trying not to google it too much but doesn't look like a nice thing to have].

    I am now awaiting a blood test [might just be an electrolyte imbalance?] and a referral to the spinal unit at the local hospital.

    I'll keep you posted!
  • ftm42ftm42 ✭✭✭
    Bloods were negative. Still not even had a letter with an appointment yet from hospital. Done a couple of 2Ks just round the block which felt as if my legs aren't turning over + felt exhausted. Surely I can't have lost fitness that quickly?

    Now I'm thinking of just running with painkillers if necessary as it might take ages to see spinal unit + I'm scared they'll just say there's nothing wrong.

    Back seems better but so so stiff. Can't touch my toes any more + can barely get down to my knees when doing yoga.

    (Did I say I was scared there's nothing wrong...?)
  • TTTT ✭✭✭
    Ftm42 unfortunately you can lose fitness very quickly. Are you able to pool jog? Use the cross trainer? Both would allow you to keep some fitness without putting your body under the pressure of running. Pool jogging is really good for you, bit can be a little boring!
  • I've previously experienced similar. Try stretching with a yoga 'pigeon' pose (or modified kneeling pigeon if you're tight in the hips like me). Helps a little bit as do band walks to fire up the glutes.
  • ftm42ftm42 ✭✭✭
    edited June 2019
    Found out today, after 5 calls to different departments, that I have been referred for an MRI scan, BUT they wouldn't say what date the letter has given me; there's a 4-6 week wait; then you have to wait 3 weeks for the results.

     If I add in the nearly 3 weeks already waited, I'll be doing my head in if I can't run until then. If they then say there's nothing wrong + I need to go down a different route, I'll have wasted the entire summer!

    My plan now is to get back running (even short distances will keep me sane) with painkillers if I need to, and keep seeing my physio. I'm not sitting around waiting for someone to say there's nothing wrong.

    If there is a diagnosable issue I'll cope with that when it comes.

    Unless I go private of course...
  • TTTT ✭✭✭
    In my experience, if you go private you will need to have a consultation with a consultant, they will refer you, you will have the MRI, then you will wait two weeks for the results, and you will need another appointment with the consultant. Given where you are it is most likely going to be quicker to wait for the NHS. Costs about £150 each time you see a private consultant plus about £500 for the MRI. 
  • ftm42ftm42 ✭✭✭
    Food for thought TT. My health cover is a cashback scheme that only pays a limited amount. £300 for an MRI being one of the figures. So a choice between running anyway so I stay sane until the scan, or give up running + wait, knowing I'll be mega [email protected] off if the results aren't conclusive.

     Given that I've been running with it for months anyway, I might as well carry on doing what I can.
  • NessieNessie ✭✭✭
    "Having spent nearly 4 years sorting out a chronic knee problem, I am angry that my body is now letting me down in a different way."

    Thinking about this and some of your other comments, could it be that 4 years of knee issues have caused an imbalance?  I have a fallen arch in my left foot, which caused severe piriformis syndrome due to overcompensation, leading to sciatica-type pain in my back and thigh.  Loads of sitting on a tennis ball (and now a spiky ball) and foam rolling have really made a difference.

  • ftm42ftm42 ✭✭✭
    After my last physio session Nessie, she mentioned sitting on tennis balls! Might try sitting on my foam roller first [and I have 2 tennis balls in a sock to use for spine massage]
  • ftm42ftm42 ✭✭✭
    OK so this might generate some negative response, but hey-ho. I now have some dates to aim for. MRI scan 28th July, results 20th August. In the light of that, I have decided I have to keep running as much as I can until then. For mental health I can't just sit around / go to the gym / whatever, until the summer has gone. My fear is that they won't find anything or that they will find something that need not stop me running and I will have wasted the whole summer. If it turns out that I really can't run any more, then at least I can give up knowing I haven't wasted the summer.

    That said, I seem to have either deteriorated or just lost so much fitness already. I can manage 5K, but feel exhausted after 3.5K. My last parkrun yesterday, was pretty horrible [very hot which doesn't help as I don't run well in heat - who does?]. I felt reasonably relaxed, but my time was a good 2 minutes slower than my usual, and just under the half hour. Bum hurt after and feel sore sitting down.

    Just can't reach further than my knees now when I try to touch my toes [been advised by sports physio that yoga isn't good either, as I will be trying to stretch out muscles that have gone into spasm and won't release, even after a good hour's pummeling, acupuncture and a polite email from her suggesting I need to 'be kinder to my body']. I met a fellow [now ex-] runner at a party last weekend who has now given up running altogether with what sounds like the same problem. She is ex-Army and now has a personal trainer at a local gym which is something I can't afford [gym membership there is way too high and pt costs a fortune too].

    Thing is right now, things have calmed down and although my back is constantly stiff and I still have these pains in my bum/hammies I feel sore but not 'painful' and if I can still run 5K, I ought to keep going?
  • TTTT ✭✭✭
    I can completely understand wanting to keep running for MH reasons. Between a hip injection and surgery for a torn labrum/pincer/cam impingement I was allowed to run three times a week for five miles a time. It just about kept me sane. Must admit my bike had much use too. As I said before pool jogging is really good for you and can complement whatever running you can do. Keep us informed, we are here for you. 
  • NessieNessie ✭✭✭
    Yes, totally  understand your need to run.  I'd recommend removing your watch and not looking at the parkrun emails.  Run to feel at a pace you don't get exhausted too soon.  I suspect the heat may have had as much to do with the fall off in time as the lay off, but now is not the time to beat yourself up about pace. Call it a period of base training, and if/when you get the all-clear to run again, you will be in a good place to start sharpening  up.

    Hope it all goes well for you.
  • ftm42ftm42 ✭✭✭
    edited July 2019
    Nessie - good idea. I do use my watch just to look at stats later, but I look at it while I'm out, only to keep tabs on when to turn round and head for home.

    I listen to music now [on my aftershokx bluetooth headphones, so I can still hear surrounding noise] and just try to enjoy it. My mantra whilst running is to say 'enjoy' every 4 strides!

    TT I tried pool jogging and hated it. Local pool hours are awful if I want to get up and be alert for work!
  • ftm42ftm42 ✭✭✭

    This was the Race in May when I 'broke down'. What is going on with my left foot?! No wonder I hurt! I've since seen a similar photo at this weekends parkrun (slow + uncomfortable thanks for asking!). I think it's due to the sciatic issue?

    I also nearly fell down some steps during the week when my right leg spasmed + I lost control of it momentarily. Scary.
  • NessieNessie ✭✭✭
    It could be as a result of, or be the cause of the sciatica.  If something is going on in your back, the pain and imbalance will make you use muscles differently, causing tightening and weaknesses where they shouldn't be.  Alternatively, tightness and weakness could cause the imbalances which would cause the sciatica.

    The same could be the cause of the spasm if the muscle was overworked.  Hope your scan on the 28th gives you some answers.
  • ftm42ftm42 ✭✭✭
    Scan done. Now have to be patient for a few more weeks. Convinced myself that they won't find anything and am now worrying about getting back to regular running.

    Just had a holiday + ran 3x. Very slow but was extremely hot + humid, so not surprised. I did feel relatively pain free though.

    Now that I'm home, I feel much stiffer + have pains in hips + front of pelvis now too. I've run 2x and feel very slow + exhausted. Only managing 5K. Stretching all the time just try try to keep the aches down a bit.

    Finding it really hard following friends who are achieving 100+ parkruns; running despite various illnesses + traumas; getting PBs; while I'm moping about feeling like there's not that much wrong with me so why am I waiting to get going? I'm not sure I'll be able to as I'm getting stiffer as the weeks roll by.

    Sorry - bit of a rant.
  • TTTT ✭✭✭
    Ftm42, please do not apologize about ranting, if you cannot rant on a running forum about how much you miss running then where can you? I am pleased you had your scan, the results will allow you to know what is happening and make some decisions. 

    I know it's tough, I can completely understand having had major hip surgery, the frustration of watching others run, but more than likely you will get back there, you will start collecting those tee shirts again. Let us know how you go on. 
  • ftm42
    I came across this thread as I looked for something else!

    You are displaying all the classic symptoms of a lumbar herniated disc and I am surprised that neither your physio or chiro have highlighted this.
    Basically all sciatica originates at the point where nerves exit from the spinal column and a disc gets damaged and starts to press on the nerve resulting in referred neural pain. Depending on where the pain is, and yours is in the right hip and hamstring, the damaged disc can be fairly readily diagnosed, and the MRI will confirm it, but it sounds like L4-5 disc.
    Given that conservative treatment (stretching, exercises etc) have not improved the situation it may be that the condition is chronic but the MRI will reveal the extent.

    I had nearly 10 years of keeping my herniated L4-5 in check with very extensive core strengthening and flexibility exercises until finally it became impossible to move without having extreme pain and spasm.

    I had micro discectomy on two discs to "shave" of the bits that were cutting into the nerves and following 12 weeks of gradual recovery building up to run/walking up to 6 miles a day I was able to resume running properly.

    The MRI is the key - it will accurately diagnose what the problem is - be patient :)  I know that is easier said than done - I was running 60+ miles/week previously

    Taking a painkiller and walking will help to alleviate the spasm as it relaxes the muscles which are causing the spasm.

    This is a good general website

    so that you can know what they are talking about in advance and more importantly you will be able to ask questions!!!

    Good luck
  • ftm42ftm42 ✭✭✭
    Thanks TT for your support - it is really appreciated as I was feeling very down the last couple of days.

    Torque Steer: to her credit, I think my physio did pick something up as she mentioned that she thought my spine was 'compressed' and causing pinching of the nerves. She also politely hinted that maybe I should give up running - her phrase was 'you might need to be kinder to your body and find something else to keep you fit'. I have just been denying it, until I get some sort of positive diagnosis. At the moment I'm in limbo-land where I don't actually know if there is an issue, which is why I am still out there running [even if I have slowed and stiffened].

    My GP suspects spinal stenosis, hence the MRI. I'm frustrated too as I have just spent 2-3 years sorting out a knee issue with physio and gentle running and had got back to a 26-minute parkrun [for me a PB - at 55 years old! Never too old to PB!] but always running with the aches and pains, so got myself thinking how much faster I'd be if the pains would just go away.

    It's been such a long wait...not long to go!
  • ftm42ftm42 ✭✭✭
    Well - wouldn't you know it. After all that wait, there's nothing wrong with my spine. That's a good thing! The only thing he could see was a very slight deterioration in lower spine but only what you'd expect for a 55 year old female.

    So - now what? Plan is to just keep on running, slowly and try to relax lots. I had booked a block of 6x half hour deep-tissue massages through work prior to the results of the scan anyway, so I have asked her to concentrate on lower spine and hamstrings. Hopefully, if it's just a muscular thing, she can find a way to relax them.
  • NessieNessie ✭✭✭
    Frustrating for you, but that's brilliant news :)  Good luck with the rehab.
  • TTTT ✭✭✭
    Hi ftm42, that is excellent news, if it is muscle it will be a long haul back (and we will be here for you) but equally far quicker and less painful than it being bones. 
  • ftm42ftm42 ✭✭✭
    Getting worse again - but in other places! Tightness in hamstrings now almost gone thanks to deep tissue massage. Lower back pains now gone.

    BUT - now my hips / piriformis has decided to get in on the action. I can run 5K but my right hip is so sore after. I ran the Great Scottish 10K yesterday in a decent time. Bit slower than last year, but not by much. Felt fine until I stretched after and then got up from the grass, to find my right leg wouldn't swing properly. Limped to my taxi and then had to climb the stairs by holding on to the bannister as I couldn't push up on my right leg.

    My sister is a masseuse, so she has done a couple of sessions with me. Today, feels fine, until I've walked to work, when the last uphill gets my hip again. I'm fine going downstairs and after a rest, OK going up, but just don't know what to do next!

    I'm just going from one problem to another. :'(
  • TTTT ✭✭✭
    Hi ftm42, I can really understand your frustration. This is a completely off the wall suggestion, have you googled labral tear? Look at the symptoms, because if it is then it is possible to cure it (does take a long time!).

    It's just a suggestion, and I am not a medic, but it is a very, very common injury in female runners of 'a certain age' (as my consultant put it).
  • ftm42ftm42 ✭✭✭
    edited October 2019
    Never heard of that - sounds a bit um personal??

    Found a video from Oxford University - physio doing a diagnosis and don't think it's that.

    I've been having some deep tissue massage and she identified the piriformis being tight? We are now working on that, but I'm also trying not to run as much as I can [given that I have 2x 10K on the next 2 Sundays!] and just stretch / yoga for now. I think my stamina won't reduce too much so I can do the 10Ks, just slower than I would normally.

    After the last 10K I do plan to just stop running altogether and use the gym. [boring] I think my poor old body needs a break?
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