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Back Pain? Sciatica?

By Richard Corson/Health & Welfare Writer

If you served in combat arms, especially in special operations forces, you know all too well the debilitating effects of lower back and sciatic pain. Heavy rucksacks, airborne operations, and long deployments over a lifetime of service take their toll on your body. 

Like you, my lower back is a mess! The constant pain from my L4-L5 being 7mm out of alignment, three bulging disks, and degenerative disk disease have been a constant companion for the last 40+ years. 

Over the years, with advice from and procedures by many doctors, PAs, physical therapists, chiropractors, massage therapists, acupuncturists, and friends, I have developed ways of mitigating these issues to the best of my ability.

These include a wide range of techniques, tools, and procedures. 

  • I have a yoga-based stretching routine that I start each day with immediately upon rising. [This at least gets me moving and “functional,” albeit still with some pain.] 
  • Exercises that focus on core strength, which is critical for back pain. [Makes a big difference] 
  • Other “remedies” I have found helpful when my back acts up include heating pads, ice baths, and using a TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) Unit, which provides temporary pain relief. [extremely helpful to me on long drives] 

Due to developing neuropathy and concern about potential paralysis in my legs, I saw a neurosurgeon many years ago about my back. After reviewing my records before my appointment, his first words were, “You don’t need me.” I said, “Excuse me?” Again, he said, “You don’t need me! You just walked in here. When you crawl in here, that’s when you need me.” 

He showed me a spine model with rods on either side at the L4-L5 vertebrae, telling me he would likely have to do this. I immediately loved this guy for his honesty. I left his office to continue my life as usual, albeit in constant pain. That I knew how to live with.

Five years ago, when these various techniques no longer provided relief, I underwent two rounds of spinal injections. The first of these had no impact, which is not uncommon. The doctor had warned me about this. A month later, I had my second session, which provided about 6 months of relief, which I was thankful for.

Fast forward to 3 months ago, when I made a new acquaintance. “Mr. Sciatica” came into my life uninvited and really threw me for a loop. 

Like all of us, I had learned to deal with the “normal” pain I live with every day. However, this was a whole new experience that knocked my knees out from under me. Fortunately, I am blessed with a high pain threshold. Until now, there has only been one instance in my life I would claim to have experienced the dreaded “10” out of 10 on the pain scale, and I never wish to go there again.

My new “friend,” sciatica, had other ideas saying, “Not so fast skippy! Have I got a surprise for you.”

I tried the old standby, “Ranger Candy” (800mg Motrin), which I had lying around, but they no longer cut it. I immediately went to Urgent Care, who prescribed some steroids to help break the cycle. “Wee…I’m Superman!” They make you feel like you can take on the world…until you start to wean yourself off them. Then, guess who showed up again, “I’m Back! Did you miss me?” It appears he plans permanent residence in my body.

So, what to do? I am currently being reviewed for another possible round of spinal injections, which I will welcome if they help like before.


First off, Do Not self-diagnose. See your primary health official and follow their guidance.

 Based on their recommendation, you might consider the following:

  • Watch your weight & posture. [You’ll be amazed by the impact of good posture.]
  • Develop a stretching routine and stick with it! [Being religious about this has made a big difference for me.]
  • Develop a workout routine within the limits of your ability and based on medical guidance, focusing on core strength.
  • Invest in a good heating pad and use it as necessary to relieve muscle pain.
  • If you have access to it, try ice baths. [I found these very therapeutic!] 
  • Consider getting a good quality TENS unit. These are great for temporary relief of muscle pain and spasms. [Great on long drives]
  • See your primary care provider at the VA regarding possible benefits of:
    • Acupuncture 
    • Chiropractic treatment 
    • Massage Therapy
    • EMS or Electric Muscle Stimulation
    • Spinal injections  [usually done under local anesthesia, and not as bad as they sound] 

I hope you have found this informative but, most importantly, of value. 

Go forth and conquer the world!

Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. These are my personal experiences, provided as a standard frame of reference to assist you in dealing with this all-too-common problem. Please consult with your medical professional.


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