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  1. #1
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    lower back spasms

    I've looked at other back pain threads and couldn't find anything specifice to my problem. A little background: I've had a recurring inflamation in my lower back for 20+ years, I believe from a skiing accident as a child. It's usually not much of a problem, but I get a flare-up every few years.

    About 3 weeks ago, I twisted a wrong way and the inflamation set in again, as I've experienced so many times. I didn't think much of it, and had some great rides thereafter. The lower back started nagging me, so I started stretching more and more, as I know I should have been all along.

    Yesterday, while eating breakfast and getting ready for a ride, I felt an overwhelming pain in my left lower back. I believe it to be muscle spasms. I hobbled to the car and drove in pain to my riding spot, hoping some activity would work things out. I had a good long ride, taking it really easy the whole way. Sitting on the bike, and leaning forward into my aggressive posture, was actually not too uncomfortable. I rode fairly well, but couldn't jump at all. And falling was more painful than usual, since I couldn't really support my weight well when I put my foot out.

    I've read that inflammation can lead to muscle spasms, and I believe this is what happened. I'm wondering if anyone else has gone through this, and what they did to recover.

    I've been taking about 2000 mg. of ibuprofen a day and stretching lightly (as well as I can, which ain't much), for the last 2 days, and it seems to help a little. But since I can't stand up straight or walk straight, my other back muscles are starting to complain.

    If anyone has experience with this, I'd love to hear from you.

  2. #2
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    I hesitate to reply as I have no good news for you. Non-traumatic acute pain in the lower back is almost always due to a skeletal issue, and muscle spasms usually manifest as continually hard-locked muscles rather than an acute experience.

    I experienced a similar pain twice in one morning in 2002 and that's what started me on the downward spiral. While pulling my pants on it felt like someone stabbed me in the lower left back with an ice pick. It caught me off guard and concerned me but the immediate pain passed in a few seconds so I continued getting dressed. When I leaned over to pick my shoes up it felt like someone stabbed me with an ice pick again, but three times in rapid succession.

    While I'd certainly had back issues for years I'd never felt anything like this so I figured something was wrong and asked my wife to drive me to my Doctor's office. It hurt too much to sit down in the waiting room but it also hurt to walk so I did that butt-in half-crouch unique to lower back pain sufferers while I held onto the back of a chair.

    3 or 4 minutes later a technician came to lead me to an examination room and as soon as I started walking I knew something wasn't right. My legs weren't behaving properly... they seemed weak and sluggish. I got my wife's attention and leaned heavily on her, then called the technician over for my other arm to lean on. By the time we'd made it the 10m to an exam room my legs were gone and I was literally being held up by my escorts with my feet dragging along behind me like useless objects.

    I could feel my legs but they couldn't feel me and the pain in my lower back was intense. My Doctor came into the room and immediately put his hands underneath me and pushed on the area he knows I have problems, at L5-S1 (I'm not happy that he did this but it sure saved some time). It felt like he had injected molten lead in there and clamped it down. It hurt so bad that it took my breath away and while I fought back tears I asked him to not do that again.

    They sent me by ambulance to a nearby hospital and I will be forever grateful that my medic was a low back pain victim as well, and so was the fellow driving, so they picked the slowest and least rough route to the facility that they knew.

    When I got to the ER they hit me with Dilaudid, the hardest narcotic I've ever been given. Before the Nurse was even done injecting the drug in my IV I was seeing two of him and while it was strong enough to prevent me from peeing for the next 6 hours (despite the fact that I had to go so bad that it hurt) I could still feel the back pain through the fog. The next 3 days are a blur of Dilaudid, Demerol, X-Rays, MRIs and shitty staff members.

    The MRIs showed that the disc at L5-S1 had died at some point in the past and become calcified, and what had gone wrong was that it had moved to the rear and the little calcium stalactites had pushed into my spinal cord, interrupting the signal pathway to my legs.

    The pain meds and some excruciating manual manipulation were enough to put the disc back towards the front of my spine, relieving the nerve blockage.

    Once I was discharged my Doctor referred me to a Pain Management Specialist who attempted to hit my pain with a sledge hammer. Truckloads of narcotics, muscle relaxers, even anti-seizure medication (it slows down nerve impulses). I swear that for a whole year I dropped about 50 IQ points due to all the crap they had me taking. It got so bad that my liver began to swell up from all the Tylenol in the Lortab. I finally had to tell him that it was too much, and that while we were making some progress in managing my back pain we were doing so at the expense of many other things.

    This is when he told me of the option of epidural steroids. You can read the rest of that story here: Received my second "Lumbar Epidural Steroid Injection" today

    Now that you've read all this I hope you realize the importance of getting yourself checked out and getting some imaging and treatment done before your problem gets to a point that is much more difficult to manage. I hope you also see that while narcotics have their uses in pain management they may not be the best solution.

    Good luck!
    - Brian

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by Turmoyl
    I hesitate to reply as I have no good news for you. Non-traumatic acute pain in the lower back is almost always due to a skeletal issue, and muscle spasms usually manifest as continually hard-locked muscles rather than an acute experience.

    I experienced a similar pain twice in one morning in 2002 and that's what started me on the downward spiral. While pulling my pants on it felt like someone stabbed me in the lower left back with an ice pick. It caught me off guard and concerned me but the immediate pain passed in a few seconds so I continued getting dressed. When I leaned over to pick my shoes up it felt like someone stabbed me with an ice pick again, but three times in rapid succession.

    While I'd certainly had back issues for years I'd never felt anything like this so I figured something was wrong and asked my wife to drive me to my Doctor's office. It hurt too much to sit down in the waiting room but it also hurt to walk so I did that butt-in half-crouch unique to lower back pain sufferers while I held onto the back of a chair.

    3 or 4 minutes later a technician came to lead me to an examination room and as soon as I started walking I knew something wasn't right. My legs weren't behaving properly... they seemed weak and sluggish. I got my wife's attention and leaned heavily on her, then called the technician over for my other arm to lean on. By the time we'd made it the 10m to an exam room my legs were gone and I was literally being held up by my escorts with my feet dragging along behind me like useless objects.

    I could feel my legs but they couldn't feel me and the pain in my lower back was intense. My Doctor came into the room and immediately put his hands underneath me and pushed on the area he knows I have problems, at L5-S1 (I'm not happy that he did this but it sure saved some time). It felt like he had injected molten lead in there and clamped it down. It hurt so bad that it took my breath away and while I fought back tears I asked him to not do that again.

    They sent me by ambulance to a nearby hospital and I will be forever grateful that my medic was a low back pain victim as well, and so was the fellow driving, so they picked the slowest and least rough route to the facility that they knew.

    When I got to the ER they hit me with Dilaudid, the hardest narcotic I've ever been given. Before the Nurse was even done injecting the drug in my IV I was seeing two of him and while it was strong enough to prevent me from peeing for the next 6 hours (despite the fact that I had to go so bad that it hurt) I could still feel the back pain through the fog. The next 3 days are a blur of Dilaudid, Demerol, X-Rays, MRIs and shitty staff members.

    The MRIs showed that the disc at L5-S1 had died at some point in the past and become calcified, and what had gone wrong was that it had moved to the rear and the little calcium stalactites had pushed into my spinal cord, interrupting the signal pathway to my legs.

    The pain meds and some excruciating manual manipulation were enough to put the disc back towards the front of my spine, relieving the nerve blockage.

    Once I was discharged my Doctor referred me to a Pain Management Specialist who attempted to hit my pain with a sledge hammer. Truckloads of narcotics, muscle relaxers, even anti-seizure medication (it slows down nerve impulses). I swear that for a whole year I dropped about 50 IQ points due to all the crap they had me taking. It got so bad that my liver began to swell up from all the Tylenol in the Lortab. I finally had to tell him that it was too much, and that while we were making some progress in managing my back pain we were doing so at the expense of many other things.

    This is when he told me of the option of epidural steroids. You can read the rest of that story here: Received my second "Lumbar Epidural Steroid Injection" today

    Now that you've read all this I hope you realize the importance of getting yourself checked out and getting some imaging and treatment done before your problem gets to a point that is much more difficult to manage. I hope you also see that while narcotics have their uses in pain management they may not be the best solution.

    Good luck!
    Wow! Sorry to hear of all your back turmoil, Turmoyl. I'm pretty sure I'm having muscle spasms. I've read that they can be quite debilitating, and last for weeks. Riding seems pretty comfortable for the most part (a heck of a lot more comfortable than walking - where I'm all hunched over and crooked, like an old man). But I'm wondering if riding would tend to help or hurt my chances for a speedy recovery, or if total bed rest is the way to go.

  4. #4
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    All situations being unique, the best thing for a weak back is a strong stomach.
    Doing sit ups or crunches has helped me avoid anymore back spasms.

  5. #5
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    I agree with getting checked out. Muscle spasms in the back are not like getting muscle spasms in your arm after using a weedwacker too long. The lumbar spine musculature is very closely related to the lumbar spine itself. You almost always have a nerve, muscle, joint complex issue. These muscles won't just spasm for no reason. It can be something as simple as a facet syndrome, or as severe as a disc herniation. Chiro would be my first stop to get a good lower back exam. If you have had problems in the past an xray is a good start too. Maybe early for MRI if you don't have pain or numbness in the legs, but the exam will tell the doctor if you need an MRI or not.

    If you ignore it, and pretend it's just muscle spasms, you may be setting yourself up for a much worse injury.

  6. #6
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    Bonking ... not feelin' well i feel your pain, kinda

    I am currently expiriencing sharp pain in the lower left side of my back. It started as just being a little sore which I thought was normal adjustment since I have only been riding 2 months. As of yesterday morning getting ready for work I coughed while walking from room to room and it felt like something popped and the rest of my day sucked. It almost feels like my upper hip and lower back are hitting each other every step I take. It stings to sit here and type or lay flat or do most anything.

    I am not sure if this is a back spasm, a pulled muscle, or worse either way I just called in to work and am most likely calling the doctor but for now I'm in the process of reading "lower back pain" threads. So far I think I need some fitting adjustments with my bike like a shorter stem and slightly higher bars maybe. Cannot disagree with the advice for strengthening core muscles for a bad back but at 27 and being in pretty decent shape I'm not so sure that is my personal problem. Though it could be.

    Not sure what any of this has to do with the original poster other than a similar pain.

  7. #7
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    If coughing causes lower back pain, then it's a good possibility that it is a disc herniation. The coughing, sneezing, and crapping will increase the pressure around the spinal cord and it puts pressure on the damaged disc. Sorry the bad news, but its MRI time.

  8. #8
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    Update:

    Today is day 4. I've been taking 2000 mg. of Ibuprofen daily, which seems to have helped a little; and with that, some left-over vicodin and a healthy dose of beer. Also, lots of light stretching. I've been sleeping (as best as I can) on my back with a big pillow under my knees; or on my side with the pillow between my legs. Unlike day 1, I've been feeling best after spending a lot of time in bed.

    Oddly, it's a lot easier to ride my bike than it is to stand upright, walk, or even drive a car. It's the only time I fee properly aligned. Sitting here at my PC feels OK for the moment, but I'll be hunched over and crooked when I stand up and try to walk.

    Day 4 is definitely better than day 3, which was better than day 2. I'm psyched that I can still ride comfortably. I just have to take it easy, as I'm sure a fall, or even a near fall, could set me back quite a bit. Still, riding seems therapeutic.

    As soon as I can, I plan to get back to regular core strengthe exercises and stretching. I stopped that a year ago, because I was spending more time riding. I think that may have finally caught up with me.

  9. #9
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    What stretching are you doing? The old "I'll kinda bend over and try to touch my toes" technique isn't necessarily the best thing for lower back pain. I would highly recommend seeing a physician (better yet, an orthopaedist) if for no other reason than to get a referral to a physical therapist. They'll be able to show you the stretching and strengthening you should be doing to keep this in check. You could certainly be suffering from disc issues (if you feel any kind of "nerve pain" or pain in your legs, take it very seriously) so it's wise to get an MRI to find out what's really going on.

    I went through a similar type of thing and continued to push myself until I wound up pretty much out of action for 6 long months of pain ranging from blinding to moderate discomfort. Do what you have to do to take care of it and don't accept that it will always be the way it is now.

  10. #10
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    get an MRI

    I had a very similar situation with "back spasms" that were ultimately from a bulging disc in the L1/S5 region. I thought I could work through it and ended up herniating two discs. Once the disc herniates in that region the material presses on the cyatic nerve and I lost feeling in my left leg. I ended up in pain management and physical therapy for a year. Reading through these posts brings back bad memories!

    On the up side, you can recover. It has been an uphill battle for me, but I've been able to ride recently and even did a trip to moab last spring. I even avoided surgery despite my physician really pushing it.

  11. #11
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    I've got to agree. Very similar symptoms, severely bulging disc. I caught it just in time (before they felt it would have blown).

    Go get the MRI.
    "The thing is, Bob, it's not that I'm lazy, it's that I just don't care."

  12. #12
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    Today is day 7. I stopped the ibuprofen (mostly because I forgot to take some to work). But then I decided to just see how it goes. I'm still sore, and often get a sharp pain when twisting and bending at the same time. But if I repeat that same motion slowly, I can work through it until it no longer hurts to move that way.

    Fortunately, riding seems to be quite therapeutic, bringing relief during and after. I felt weird calling in sick to go mountain biking, but I couldn't comfortably sit at my desk any longer. (that was 3 days ago, on day 4).

    I rode yesterday, for about 40 minutes, and it went well. I get a little stiffness if I don't stop and stretch/rest my back, but I think the muscle spasms have subsided. I can jump over small stuff without sharp pains. Standing straight and walking straight is still difficult. Sometimes I get up and seem semi-normal, and sometimes I feel (and look) like an old cripple. ]

    Overall, I think there's been steady progress, so I'll continue on this course. I've got some challenging rides set up for the labor day weekend. We'll see how it goes.

  13. #13
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    Here we go again!

    First off, it is always challenging to diagnose over a forum as this.
    As I read through your posts a couple of things resonate with me.

    One, spinal muscles only do what nerves tell them to do. Typically you will have back spasms for nerves and those structures that can affect the nerves near them. With this, a disc, a mechanical dysfunction, and instabilities can all cause your spasms.

    Second, with the clue that a slightly forward bent position (riding) actually lessens your symptoms it leads me to think of a Lumbar instability. Essentially, you have lost the structural stability around that spinal segment and your musculature (core) is not able to keep it in its proper fashion. When you lean forward, as in riding, you tighten what is called your ThoracoLumbar Fascia which is a very strong tissue essentially covering the back of your pelvis and Lumbar region. When the Fascia is tightend it stabilizes your unstable segment. It is also likely that when you lie in the fetal position with the pillow between your legs you are doing the same thing.

    There is always a chance that there is some discal involvement. The thing that you need to understand is that MRI's are not only expensive, they are sometimes worthless. MRI's are very good at taking a picture in time at your anatomy. They will not show instabilities. A very large portion of the population will have "disc herniations" at some level and never have any back pain or other symptoms.

    I would get in to see a good Physical Therapist who is a manual therapist. Even if you go to the MD and get your MRI, nearly regardless of the results your MD will likely refer you for therapy anyway.
    BoiseBoy

  14. #14
    the WALKING DEAD
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    Geez, this is going to sound awfully basic compared to MRI's and Physical Therapy mentioned above, but, do you own a heating pad? I have an electric heating pad. Part of it is a thin sponge that you can get wet to have either dry or moist heat. I think it feels awesome on sore tight muscles. Get in a recliner, take a load off, watch some tube, and feel the tension melt away. Just a low tech suggestion.
    Your momma's so nasty, she keeps ice between her legs just to keep the crabs fresh.

  15. #15
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    Here are 2 more things that are free and easy that feel good to me that I forgot in my first post. If you can find something to hang from, like a bar or open backed stair case. I think it feels great to relax all your muscles (other than your hands holding the bar of course) and let your spine and hips re-aline. My apartment fire escape stairs have sharp edged steel stairs that I hang off of. My hands can only take the steel digging into my hands for maybe 15 seconds, but it feels like I just gained an inch in height (standing nice and straight) when I touch ground again. I'm thinking of wrapping them in some old carpet so I can hang longer. Here is a stretch that I'm sure is official somewhere, but since noone showed it to me and made it up myself, I'm taking credit for inventing it. Find something firm to grab that is about waist high. Clench your abs and your butt cheeks and then kind of assume a sitting, crouching position. This stretches your lower back real nice. And it doesn't hurt. I use the entry steps to my apartment building. I stand 90 degrees from the stairs and grab the vertical posts holding up the hand rail. I wedge my toes against the cement base of the stairs and assume a sort of sitting position to stretch my lower back. Clench your abs and butt cheeks and feel the stretch, try to keep your back arched. Good stuff.
    Your momma's so nasty, she keeps ice between her legs just to keep the crabs fresh.

  16. #16
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    Hey tduro, did you get that MRI yet?

  17. #17
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    Lower Back muscle spasms

    Hey -- your original post is more than a month old now, so hopefully you're well on your way to recovery, if not fully recovered. For future reference, I strongly recommend rest and ice, followed by stretching as the muscles begin to relax and the pain subsides.

    Five years ago a friend with extensive academic experience in exercise physiology recommended a simple exercise to me that I do with some regularity. I truly believe this exercise had strengthened my back and helped prevent recurrence of back spasms.

    For the past 20 years, back spasms had been pretty much an annual event for me (I'm 50+ years old.) They usually, but not always, start with a searing lightning bolt of pain through my lower back when I do some ill-advised combination of bending and twisting. Over the years, the ensuing spasms had become more debilitating. Eight years ago, the spasms were so bad I couldn't stand up without supporting my weight on something with my hands. I could only walk with a slow, stooped, limping gait. That time I went to the ER and they gave me a thigh injection of muscle relaxer, along with prescriptions for muscle relaxer pills and horse pill-size doses of naproxen. When the spasms occur, they pull my spine out of line. When I stand "straight" and look at myself in the mirror, my entire spinal column is cocked at a weird angle from the waist up.

    Most of the time I get through these episodes in two to three weeks. Then I'm good as new and back on the bike. I really think, though, that riding, especially aggressive riding, works against the healing process. When I'm in a full-blown episode, I can't even imagine trying to get on a bike, let alone doing a strenuous cross-country ride. I'd say, though, you should just listen to your own body (and your doctor) on that.

    Back to the exercise: It consists of simply lying on your stomach, tops of your feet resting on the floor, toes pointed toward the wall, head resting on one side on top of your hands, and clenching your butt muscles, holding, and relaxing. Try to draw your glutes toward each other. If you're like me, you'll feel the exercise working your lower back muscles and you'll intuitively figure out the most effective contraction.

    I was highly skeptical when my friend first told me about this exercise. But I've been doing it regularly for the last five yeas, and I've only had two back episodes in that time. Both of them were far less debilitating than my previous episodes. One of them (which I'm working through now) occurred because I stupidly tried to keep up with an 18-year-old kid in a project that involved several hours of repeated heavy lifting, combined with twisting and turning, on an uneven surface. Dumb, dumb, dumb. Even though I'm experiencing the spinal column tilt, this episode is not nearly as bad as many have been.

    I try to do five, 10-second reps every morning and night. I really do think this has made a preventive difference.

  18. #18
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    Hey BrooklynBoy,
    That exercise worked for me! Thanks for the info! The first time I did it, I heard/felt a little pop. I felt at least 50% better right then! I've been doing it whenever I get a chance. Probably 5 times in 12 hours. I went for a 15 mile very technical ride this morning and I feel great afterwards.

    Who would have thought such a strange little exercise would have such great results? And, I would have never thought of doing that before. Can't thank you enough.

    Matt

  19. #19
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    Lower Back Spasms

    Matt:

    Glad it feels like it's working for you! I hope you're still feeling great. Just remember: There are no miracle cures. I truly believe this is a beneficial exercise, but I view it more as a preventive/maintenance exercise than a fix-me-when-I'm-broke exercise. When I'm stove up, I count on rest, ice and time to get me back on the trail again.



    Quote Originally Posted by Xtradust
    Hey BrooklynBoy,
    That exercise worked for me! Thanks for the info! The first time I did it, I heard/felt a little pop. I felt at least 50% better right then! I've been doing it whenever I get a chance. Probably 5 times in 12 hours. I went for a 15 mile very technical ride this morning and I feel great afterwards.

    Who would have thought such a strange little exercise would have such great results? And, I would have never thought of doing that before. Can't thank you enough.

    Matt

  20. #20
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    Thanks all for your suggestions and concern! The saga continues:

    At week 6, I finally went to my PCP. He gave me a week's worth of anti-inflammatories and muscle relaxants. The good news is that the pain and spasms were gone in about 4-5 days. I could twist and crack my back, and I felt loose and straight. The bad news is that I developed a new pain, deep in my left buttocks. I also get occasional (but mild) weekness/numbness/tingling in my left foot.

    I went back to my PCP and he referred me for x-rays and a sports/orthopaedic specialist. X-rays revealed nothing. Orthopaedist suspects it's muscular, and thought my back/buttocks/hamstrings seemed too tight. I think it's nerve related, on account of the foot numbness and the fact that this new pain cropped up while I was taking muscle relaxants (which worked great on my tight muscles). He referred me for physical therapy, 3 days/wk for 6 weeks! Doh! And I should go see him again if I'm not better in a month.

    I still ride a lot, and feel somewhat better during and after. Now that I'm through with the anti-inflammatories and muscle relaxants, the original symptoms seem to be returning.

    We'll see how PT goes.

  21. #21
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    Glad to hear that at least things are progressing. Don't take any nerve pain/tingling/numbness lightly though. I would still push for an MRI, but physical therapy is definitely the right track. Let us know how it goes.

  22. #22
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    One word - Valium

    Due to an auto accident years ago every 24 months or so I get muscle spasms
    in my lower back. Valium is the only sure fire way to fix the problem. It is one
    of the best drugs for something like this, and yes it is/can be habit forming so
    look out.
    Nobody cares...........

  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by ebarker9
    Glad to hear that at least things are progressing. Don't take any nerve pain/tingling/numbness lightly though. I would still push for an MRI, but physical therapy is definitely the right track. Let us know how it goes.
    I'm mildly encouraged by the PT so far. These are the first health care providers that seem genuinely serious about figuring out my problem, and putting me on the course to long-term relief. However, they've all seemed puzzled by my symptoms, so I'm withholding judgement at the moment. I'm typically more sore the morning after therapy (mostly stretching and strengthening exercises), which is fine with me if it's on the path to recovery. We'll have to wait and see.

    Ski season is just around the corner, and I've only got 2 weeks to decide whether to buy passes for me and my son.

  24. #24
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    Wow, it's been 4 weeks since I posted an update? Seems like only 1 or 2. Anyway, little has changed. The good news is, I still ride as much as ever, without serious discomfort. The bad news is, nothing has changed. I'll call it a mild sciatica. There are good days and bad days, but on average, no improvement after 4 weeks of PT. My biggest concern is the tingling/numbness/weakness in my left foot. Although that in itself doesn't bother me much, I notice that it affects my balance a little, which is unacceptable IMO.

  25. #25
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    No MRI? Any tingling/numbness is bad and something you don't want to just accept. I would definitely push for an MRI, especially if you're experiencing weakness. That is something that can become permanent.

    My experience sounds awfully similar. The problem transitioned from the horrible muscular pain into nerve pain extending down my leg. Just because it's a different pain doesn't mean that it's a better pain. I think I was probably pushing things too hard during that time period and your spine may not be stabilized well enough for the activities that you're doing. I ended up having a "nerve conduction study" done to determine if any nerve damage had occurred. Thankfully everything was ok, but still...pressure on nerves is not something to mess around with. Do what you need to do to get an MRI and DO NOT push yourself.



    Quote Originally Posted by tduro
    Wow, it's been 4 weeks since I posted an update? Seems like only 1 or 2. Anyway, little has changed. The good news is, I still ride as much as ever, without serious discomfort. The bad news is, nothing has changed. I'll call it a mild sciatica. There are good days and bad days, but on average, no improvement after 4 weeks of PT. My biggest concern is the tingling/numbness/weakness in my left foot. Although that in itself doesn't bother me much, I notice that it affects my balance a little, which is unacceptable IMO.

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