A newer, longer version of this post has been published at Building and Maintaining a Healthy Back.
Two years ago I was diagnosed with a herniated disc in my back. This caused my sciatic nerve to be pinched, which caused great pain in my legs when I was sitting or standing. I spent a lot of the next two weeks lying flat on my back. After standing for just a few minutes, the pain would become intense again, and I’d need to lie back down.
I’m the sort of person who resists taking medicine, and I found myself taking up to eight ibuprofen a day just to cut the pain and get through it.
Yes, having Sciatica sucked.
I wanted to get better fast, but I felt fairly helpless. Even stretching that used to seem light was difficult to do without pain. Lying on the living room floor watching movies got old.
I was desperate to be able to get outside get some form of normal exercise, but it seemed just about every kind of movement hurt.
In this desperation, I tried an experiment. I hobbled out the bike shed to see how painful it would be to ride my Rans V-Rex, a recumbent bike. The seat was more reclined than most seats, so it might be feel more like lying down than sitting. That could make it low pain.
I pulled out of the alley and was tentative with the first strokes. Even if there wasn’t immediate pain, I was concerned that some shooting pains might appear while I was riding, causing a wreck, or leaving me stranded waiting for someone to pick me up.
But so far, my experiment was working. I began to pedal harder and harder, until I was going full steam. There was no pain! It was working. I remember riding to the library, feeling good while I was on the bike. I had to move around the library quickly, as the pain was building quickly as I checked out some books on Sciatica. The irony.
The pain was significant by the time I returned to the bike for the return trip. Again, I took off with some concern– I had made it here, but perhaps there would be a problem on the return trip, having started with some pain getting on the bike.
But again, I was able to pedal trouble free. Since I was on “vacation” that week, I started taking longer and longer bike rides each day. I practiced a 25 mile loop and that went well– I rode the course at full speed with no problems.
The experience allowed me to get my blood flowing, clear my head, get some fresh air…feel normal. There wasn’t immediate relief when the ride was over, but I knew this helping my recovery. Certainly my mental state and outlook improved.
The irony was that even by the time I parked the bike in the bike shed, I would already start having pain off the bike again as I rushed to the house to lie down again.
I took a risk and decided to set a daily distance record in this condition– I planned a 60 mile solo round trip ride from Richmond, Indiana to Oxford, Ohio and back.
As I pedaled down the barren country roads on the way there, I had doubts the trip I was embarking was a good idea. I arrived in Oxford safely but still had to sit on floor of bike shop briefly while I shopped there. I couldn’t stand comfortably long enough to complete the task.
Even on the way back, the pain on the bike did not increase, although I approached being on bike about four hours that way.
Over the next few weeks, the pain eventually tapered off without the need for surgery or other expensive treatment. Besides cycling, I also used walking, massage, acupuncture and yoga to help recover.
Now, two years later, I’m thankful the symptoms are completely gone. I would definitely recommend trying a recumbent bike to others with sciatica or lower back pain. Some stationary bikes are also recumbent, and may be available at local gyms or health clubs.
In my case, it was only coincidental that I had recently purchased a used recumbent bicycle, and I’m glad I did!