Alice’s sciatica

Here is the testimonial of Alice who accepted to share with you her story and her experience of her sciatica. She wrote this post and allowed me to translate it in English and publish it here.

Part 1: The vicious circle

It all started in October 2018; I was 26 years old. After a hectic cycling session, I wake up overnight physically unable to stand up. A radiating pain catches me and prevents me from using my back. It was a sciatica of the left leg. I was then prescribed a treatment made of anti-inflammatory medication and a large amount of bed-rest until pain goes away (which I greatly regret). This vicious circle lasted almost 3 years with episodes: I was having medication and bed-rest every 2-3 months. Besides physical pain, invisible for others, I started feeling a real malaise. I was always wondering: “How explaining what is happening to me whereas I always have been cautious about having a perfect lifestyle?” I was a high-level athlete, I was exercising, I do not drink alcohol nor smoke … I decided I would find the mechanical cause of my symptoms.

Part 2: The end of the vicious circle and the beginning of physiotherapy

During these 3 years, I developed a fear of movement. I feared experiencing my back pain. To be safe, I avoided every activity which is wrongly thought to be dangerous: I stopped lifting heavy things, I never bended forward without bending the knees, I stopped physical activity … I avoided using my back to protect it. Despite all my precautions, I was still experiencing several pain episodes and still could not identify its cause. Until June 2021 where for the first time, anti-inflammatory medication did not help any more. I was suffering day and night, and I could barely sleep because pain was waking me up. I was then prescribed an MRI and its conclusion was that I had a disc herniation. I was then immediately referred to a specialist to have injections. The issue was that this option terrified me as one of my relatives had a bad experience with it. In consequence, I decided to get a second opinion with different doctors. One of them suggested me to try physiotherapy.

Part 3: what I learned with physiotherapy.

I did not know what physiotherapy was, but I had great expectations about it. During the first session, I learn that, as many of us, I was misinformed about back pain and that bed-rest may be unhelpful. As well as physiotherapy session, I started to progressively go back to normal life and be less cautious about using my back (I started lifting things, go back to sport …). As I was really involved in the process, I did my exercises between sessions with great diligence. I felt better but not done: my progression was really fluctuating, and I had that feeling of weakness in my left leg that never left me. I also was struggling to understand why I was not cured despite taking that therapeutic approach seriously. It was when I read a scientific paper about back pain that it finally made sense. I understood that my back pain was not necessarily linked with a mechanical factor but could also be linked with psychological factors. I realized that in one hand I was expecting too much of my physiotherapist which created an adverse pressure; and in the other hand I was doing my exercises in a robotic way without trying to feel their effects on me and hence not knowing what was good for me and what was not. As I was frustrated by not finding a mechanical cause since all these years; I kept digging in the psychological field winding up until 2018. Here I realized this year was emotionally overwhelming as I lost one of my parents, few months before the onset of my pain. As I am introverted, it may be likely that my uneasiness expressed throughout my back pain. After accepting all this, I approached my physiotherapy sessions with a new perspective: being more connected to my feelings in my body and being resilient. Since then, sessions have been more helpful.

Part 4: My life today

I am now able to cope and manage my pain, which means identify what exercises are helpful for me according to how I feel. I am not yet cured, I may never be, but I am happy to be back to an (almost) normal life!