99 Problems and My Back is One

By on 10/18/2013
Well, that sucks.

So, my back. There is really no short version of this twisty, turny tale of troubles.

A long, long time ago, in a lifetime far away, 6th grade Anna started having pain in her right butt. Yeah, butt. That’s what I just said. I had sharp, acute, sudden pain that would make my right leg tingly and my right buttock feel like it was being stabbed by many hot, diseased knives.

My parents took me to the doctor who looked at a healthy 12 year old and shrugged. I probably pulled something, he said. I should just be less active, was his solution. It didn’t get better. I went to an orthopedist and sat in a waiting room filled with very elderly people. The doctor looked at me and wrote me off immediately. He said I was way too young to be in his office. I was probably too stiff and needed to be more active. But… wait, what?

That episode of pain went away on its own, only to come and go a few times a year for the rest of my ever. It was always sudden and painful and turned me into a cranky monster. There was no one thing that set it off, it would just go. Once, at my first post college big girl job, I sneezed while walking down the hallway. This caused that “bad spot” to lock up and I immediately fell to the floor… in the hallway… in front of coworkers… that I just met. I tried to play it off, but the damage was done.

 

Dear husband (well, fiancé at the time) insisted I go see a doctor. I said. “I DID! 10 YEARS AGO! THEY DON’T KNOW.” He suggested the novel idea of a second opinion. So I made an appointment with the first available doctor at my ginormous PCP practice of about 10 doctors. I was seen by a Physician’s Assistant instead. I wasn’t exactly hopeful. I was wrong. Never judge a professional by their title.

(Side joke: What do you call a waste of a medical student that parties and struggles all through school and barely scrapes by with minimal grades, sneaky schmoozing and narrowly escaping with their degree? Answer: A doctor!)

Not all medical professionals are cut from the same cloth. This PA did a 5 minute Q&A on me while moving my right leg this way and that way and taking too much pleasure in watching me wince. Then he did what those before him could not; he had an answer. He said, as casually as one would comment on the weather, “Oh, you have Piriformis Syndrome.” … I… What? I’m not crazy? I cried. I cried happy tears because it wasn’t in my head! It was a thing. I had a verifiable thing. He printed out an info sheet for me to read at home. I asked, “Ok, great! So what do I do?” His answer, “Suck it up!”

If you wish, click on the link above to learn more about a muscle you probably never even knew you had.  Otherwise, the short answer is Piriformis Syndrome is basically a muscle deformity near the glutes and the sciatic nerve. When the muscle is irritated it knots up and pinches the nerve, creating sharp local pain the muscle, and traveling sciatic pain down the leg. Short of severing the muscle and going through intensive rehab, there aren’t many treatment options.

Over time I realized stretching the muscle and doing yoga was all I needed. The pain stopped happening and I was cured!

………

……

Now you are thinking, “WTF? This long winded tale has nothing to do with your back, dear one!”

If only that were true.

After a while, hubby and I moved from Orlando to South Florida. Instead of doing yoga again, we embarked on something a bit more intense: Crossfit.

And I loved it. And I pushed and pushed and pushed and was seeing amazing results! I HAD A SIX PACK (in the right light, when flexing, and if I hadn’t recently gorged on cookies). I could lift very heavy things! I could do pull ups! I could do hand stand push-ups! I was in tomboy heaven! The gym was my playground and I played hard.

Climbing ropes for 'Murica!

Climbing ropes for ‘Murica!

Then.

One day in the middle of a WOD, I did a box jump. A regular old, run of the mill, box jump. I landed at the top of the box and felt IT. THE PAIN. It was back. I told myself, “I know what this is. It’s just my Piriformis muscle, I can push through”. So I did. For MONTHS. The pain was there for MONTHS. It was getting worse and worse. I saw a chiropractor and he agreed I probably just really messed up my muscle, and maybe, perhaps, if possible, I should slow down on the Crossfit thing. I scoffed, but then after about 4-5 months of pain, and seeing the chiropractor every week with minimal relief, I relented. I said I would just do light weight workouts, and he said I should get an MRI too, just to see.

Well, that sucks.

Well, that sucks.

What we saw were 2 herniated discs. L5 and L5-S1.

He told me I needed to see an orthopedic specialist to get a second opinion and make sure it was treatable without surgery.

Instead, I just kept working out. BUT LESS INTENSE, so its ok, right? Nope.

I started getting even MORE intense pain. I couldn’t lift my son anymore. I couldn’t get out of bed without a huge, painful struggle. I woke up with pain every night. It became that anxious, sweaty, nauseating pain. I finally stopped working out completely to give it a rest. After a couple of months of rest the pain went from a 9 to maybe a 6, and then stalled. I gave in and saw the orthopedic specialist. He said I now have a holy trinity of back problems. I have my life long partner, Piriformis Syndrome. I now also have 2 herniated discs, and because I didn’t stop Crossfit, I now have SI Joint Dysfunction (caused by the dueling pain and body responses of the first two issues simultaneously straining the joint).

Chiropractics and fish oil were not enough. The ortho shot me full of steroids.

"Before I shove giant needles in you, put these on. You know, for science."

“Before I shove giant needles in you, put these on. You know, for science.”

Now I understand why they provide a fresh pair of shorts. :/

Now I understand why they provide a fresh pair of shorts. :/

IT HURT LIKE HELL. But then it didn’t. For a week or so everything calmed down and I felt amazing. Cured! Angry I didn’t do this months ago.

Then the pain came back… full force. The shot was only temporary relief and confirmed how messed up the area was.

About 3 months ago I started physical therapy. It is supposed to take 6-8 weeks to rehab in PT. I’m 3 months in and am JUST NOW starting to see SOME results.

My physical therapist calls me a “special case,” which I think is his kind way of saying, “YOU DUMBASS LOOK WHAT YOU DID. THIS IS WHY YOU CAN’T HAVE NICE THINGS!”

I now have a trifecta of pain. My piriformis muscle pulls on my SI joint and lower back, which causes my lower back to tense up and “guard” my herniated discs, which pulls my SI joint in the opposite direction as my knotted and bound piriformis muscle, which irritates the muscle further, which then tugs on the joint more, which pisses off my discs more, which tightens and pulls more and OMG I JUST WANT IT TO STOP.

Rehabbing has proven difficult, as when we treat one problem, one of the other 2 will almost certainly flair up. It’s a fucked up dance but one I brought upon myself. My therapist is now doing a mix of steroid applications using an iontophoresis patch, along with manual physical therapy manipulations like skin rolling, trigger points, TENS, targeted exercises, heat, ice, massage, and cookies.

(The cookies may be self-prescribed.)

Get your own cookie. Dis one mine.

Get your own cookie. Dis one mine.

As of this post, it has been almost 1 year since I quit Crossfit and started focusing on babying my back. Fitness is important to me, so I tried running, which was painful. I tried yoga, which was painful. I tried the elliptical, which was painful. I’ve officially pissed off my body to the point where two doctors have prescribed NOT exercising, at all. Just stop. Sit down and just stop.

It’s driving me crazy, but I am finally starting to very slowly crawl out of this deep hole of injury, and will hopefully be able to start exercising again in some way by 2014.

The lesson: LISTEN TO YOUR BODY AND STOP WHEN SOMETHING HURTS OR RISK SETTING OFF A CHAIN REACTION OF NO GOOD, TERRIBLE, VERY BAD, SHITTY INJURIES.

You have been warned.

(Sorry about all of the internet SHOUTING CAPS LOCKS OF UNSOLICITED ADVICE DOOM. I’ll work on that.)

About Anna

Hi there! This is my little blog project where I am trying to learn more about health, wellness and living a balanced life, while also sharing a bit of my silly side as well. By "silly" I mean sarcastic. And by "a bit" I mean way too much. Sorry about that.♥ - Anna

2 Comments

  1. Miriam

    04/28/2014 at 7:09 am

    Sounds soo familiar : Piriformis, crossfit, pregnancy sacroiliac joint pain crossfit, and now constant sij pain…..given up crossfit, haven’t run since pregnancy (16 months) still shopping around for solutions to this day. How is your rehab going?…..

  2. Pingback: Another Pin-tested Recipe: “Healthy” Wendy’s Frosty | Modern Health Project

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