Athlete to Chiropractor: Passion, Pain and Sciatica!

Dec 7, 2023

Ice Hockey Image

My Own Journey with Sciatica by our in house Chiropractor, Ron Pierce.

As an athlete I am no stranger to pain. In ice hockey, playing with pain was a normal
experience. There are plenty of tropes and stereotypes about different sports, but
all of them will involve playing through pain to one degree or another. I was lucky
enough to never have a major injury while playing at my peak, during my uni days,
but I did experience a bout of back pain that was sorted by the help of both
physiotherapy and chiropractic. Nothing serious at the time, but I would later live in
the shadow of a looming threat that many clients of mine are well too familiar with.

What Cast the Shadow?
That shadow was the monster known as sciatica. Often it is accompanied by
it’s not so nice friends such as low back pain, muscle spasms, nerve pain, burning or tingling and others.
Most of them are quite tameable, sometimes easily. Of course as a chiropractor
taming them is my speciality, goal, and skill set in addition to educating those
on how to help themselves in the long run. I thought sciatica for me would
be similar.

After all I had helped many clients rid themselves of its clutches before:

-some seemingly permanently,

-while others had more ups and downs,

-others progressing but stubborn sciatica symptoms hung around!

Surely it’s no worse than migraines, headaches, or neck pain I thought to myself at times. Do
your exercises, get adjusted and improve your health status.. Its simple!

It’s Looming:
As I got older, more mature, more experienced, I learned the lesson it may
often be simple but it isn’t easy. Then, as I rediscovered a love for hockey, and new
ways to train in the gym another monster appeared looming over all of
society… COVID. Lockdown became a blessing to me, I like to think. I had injured my
hip playing hockey and thanks to all the free time furlough allowed me, I dove into
new training methods, and rediscovered a love for rehab having a virtual assessment

with my now colleague Alex Turvill (indirectly leading to my job here at Pro Health
Physio, actually). However, this also meant certain other types of training fell off;
such as cardio and heavy strength training, beyond bodyweight and resistance
bands. I likely over did it in other ways, forcing mobility work on myself too often or
attempting to progress too quickly. There are endless factors at play every day,
every week, every month and every year that can be different for everyone.

So what happened?

Well that looming monster I mentioned earlier grabbed me and
pulled me down. I felt a pinch in my back, followed by what many out there would
know of as sciatica. I had felt its presence before, temporarily of course, perhaps
that is why I had the arrogance to downplay its severity to myself and others. But
weeks turned into months, continuing about my routine or my sports and training
became a chore instead of a pleasurable privilege.

‘I became irritable, frustrated, embarrassed, and lazy.’

It hurt when I moved, it hurt if I sat still and worse, it hurt at night when trying to sleep. Helping others do
their rehab, or teaching them new things, or talking to them about their
issues instead of dwelling on my own was some of the only moments I didn’t feel
pain. I joked with others that I would rather tear a muscle or my ACL than deal with
this pain into my leg. Because in my head, at least those have very straight forward
and predictable recovery timeliness.

Growing to embrace the shadow/monster that is Sciatica:

I learned the biggest lesson right there. You never know what someone is thinking,
how close they are to giving up, how devastated they are to not be able to play the
sport they love, practice the art they love or do any task that used to be trivial
without a stark reminder of their own current fragility. All things that I thought I
already understood and could feel for them. I found a new level of empathy.

Empathy… All of us health care practitioners have it, and likely overestimate how
much and how well we display it. Its humbling to realize just how wrong you are. I
was broken, depressed and carrying on out of shear stubbornness.

Road to Recovery:

I finally accepted where I was, and that this time…. this time things weren’t
simple or easy. It was what it was. I had to scale everything back. Taking time off
the ice was the easiest part, I loved hockey but the high impact nature along with the
twisting of the body compounded with late night training was not conducive to
recovery. Not enough sleep, not enough rest. I had been on the ice 2-3 times per
week for the past 13 months with little breaks. I was breaking down and I knew it.
What I struggled with was accepting that I had to treat myself like any client that
walked in the door. Focusing on the simple exercises, and regressing right back to
what I subconsciously thought was too easy, or too simple. The ego had to be
checked and stifled. I thought, “surely these basic movements are below my level”,
only for reality to smack me upside the head.

It was here I finally accepted it and learned the next lesson of ‘keep it simple’. It
sounds cliché, but it was followed closely by ‘less is more’. To get there, I started
with basics, the same 3-6 movements 3-4 times per week based on my individual
weak spots and tolerance to load.

Just as any good physio or chiropractor would program for any client.

As I progressed I would make the movements harder, add
resistance or eventually add 1-2 more movements to do.

Wouldn’t you know it, with those lessons learned and implemented I saw progress.

Gradually, but consistently the pain eased, the sleep improved and the strength
came back. Though I am finally back on the ice I am still actively on this journey, but
now it is one that I can share with others and be an even better guide, with more
confidence and humility.

Top Tips- Keep it Simple with the brilliant basics!

  • Hydration: drink plenty of water to aid with nerve health.
  • Heat: Hot water bottle to reduce any muscle spasms
  • Sleep: Optimise for sleep, as best you can, with all the well researched recommendations of Dr. Andrew Huberman.
  • Keep Moving: regular moving to aid with blood flow, mental health and adapt your activities as needed.
  • Seek Support- Friends, Family, Healthcare professionals such as Physios/Chiros to help you on that journey.
  • Pain relief: utilise it as needed. It is not always the answer but can aid to take the edge off the pain.
  • Acceptance: fighting the sciatica is never the answer, learning to embrace, accept and adapt to it, as it allows is a more fruitful approach.

You can get you there too!

If you need help on your journey to recovery from back
pain and a guide to assist you, find me at Pro Health Physio!! Book online today!

Everyones experience is individual to them, and we all have different struggles when it comes to pain, sciatica, and coping strategies.