My first bout with sciatica — (more accurately pseudo-sciatica, the form caused by piriformis syndrome) — began the day after my 21st birthday in July 2015.

I remember waking up with a sharp pain in my ass that only marginally distracted me from the brutal hangover I’d be nursing that day. In the following weeks and months, however, the pain only worsened.

I stupidly continued working out and playing basketball throughout the summer. I figured it was just one of those things I should tough out ‘til it went away naturally.

Of course, I ended up paying the price. Sometime later, the nerve pain down my right leg began.

I’ve broken numerous bones and experienced a decent amount of physical pain in my life, but none of it compares to sciatica. The sometimes-burning, sometimes-throbbing sensation wore down my resolve over months and months. Ice packs, heat pads, stretches, and ibuprofen could provide temporary relief. In the end, though, nothing seemed to help long-term.

Eventually — after countless visits to chiropractors, physical therapists, and even acupuncture specialists — the pain subsided. I couldn’t tell you what did it in the end. To be honest, I barely even remember that time. Maybe because of how sleep-deprived I was.

Fast forward to February 2018. I’ve been back to working out legs for a few months now, and finally feel comfortable with going heavy again. For a few weeks, all was great. I’d added 40 lbs to my squat and 50 to my deadlift.

Then, disaster. On my last set of deadlifts for the day, I let my form slip. One side of the bar started coming down faster than the other, and when I finished the set and tried to stand up my back spasmed.

I kept it together, racked my weights, and hobbled out to my car. I was in pain for a few days, but it didn’t turn immediately into a pinched nerve. After about a month, the pain had mostly subsided and I thought I was in the clear. I didn’t start doing heavy leg lifts again, but I figured it would be safe to do some lunges at least.

The night after doing lunges I didn’t get a second of sleep until after 6 am. Even that sleep — which lasted maybe 1 hour — was only possible after taking a long cold shower that basically numbed my whole body.

The nerve pain had returned with a vengeance.

I wasn’t going to mess around this time. I started taking an anti-inflammatory right away. I went to sauna everyday for 20 minutes. I stretched often. But for the first couple of weeks, none of it seemed to help.

Every night when I’d try to get some sleep, the nerve pain would pick up. The nights when I slept for 3 or 4 hours felt like blessings, as there were several where I barely managed 30 minutes. After a while, it started to feel like I had a 24/7 hangover.

Every night was a living nightmare. I’d gingerly toss and turn, re-situating pillows and limbs — icepacks and heating pads — until the pain was dull enough to let me fall asleep. If I was lucky, I’d fall asleep and stay asleep for an hour. Without fail, I’d wake up with my leg on fire.

I’d roll out of bed and stretch or pace up and down the hall for as long as I could, just trying to get the nerve pain back to a bearable level. It was a constant balance between being too tired to walk or stretch and being in too much pain to lay down or sit.

Life was pretty miserable for a while.

But this time the sciatica didn’t last for a year like it had the first time. No, this time I went from worst pain of my life to almost entirely pain-free in just 7 weeks. That might still sound like a lot of time, but it’s a blip on the radar when it comes to chronic pain. More importantly, I’m confident that continuing the regiment I’m about to describe will keep the sciatica from coming back to haunt me ever again.

Without further delay, here’s everything that I’ve done to heal from sciatica.

How I Beat Sciatica

  1. Strengthening my weak spots by doing foundation training. I don’t know how the guys in this video manage to breath normally and keep straight faces, cause this shit is fucking tough. But it works like a charm. And the endorphin rush I get after doing it was probably the best I felt during those first few brutal weeks. I still do foundation training 5x per week even though I am no longer in pain from sciatica.

2. Controlled stretches. I stopped trying to release my own trigger points and just started doing one simple stretch a few times per day. That was thanks to the advice in the YouTube video below. What I like most about the stretch he teaches is that it gives you really easy control over the intensity of the stretching force on your piriformis.

3. McGill’s Big 3. While the foundation training in #1 is my favorite, these three exercises also seemed beneficial and were far less intense. I did the foundation training once per day in the morning or early afternoon and McGill’s Big 3 closer to bedtime if I didn’t feel that I would be able to fall asleep with my level of pain at the time.

4. Sciatic Nerve Flossing/Gliding. I struggled with this at first because it was impossible for me to straighten my leg out in the air while sitting. However, I was able to add it at about 1 month in and found it very helpful afterwards.

5. Physical Therapy. I started seeing a physical therapist a few weeks after the nerve pain returned. She worked on opening my hips and loosening up my back enough that I could stand up straight. She also felt that I had poor blood circulation, particularly in my back and lower body, and so she recommended that I start doing some cardio. I added 15 minutes on intense riding on the exercise bike into my gym routine and noticed an immediate improvement.

Sciatica is absolutely brutal. In my search for relief, I read hundreds of stories and comments from people who have been dealing with it for many years, and I can imagine how difficult that must be.

I hope my story and tips can help. If nothing else, I found it comforting during my own journey to know that I wasn’t the only one who struggled so much with this pain.

That said, I spent a few too many days feeling sorry for myself. Complaining never solves anything, so perhaps the most important step I took during this battle was the one to keep a positive mindset and be proactive about my recovery.

BONUS: I tried this a couple nights while struggling for relief, but I might have been too tight because I wasn’t able to find a sweet spot where I was stretching without being in intense pain. But based on the shear volume of positive YouTube comments, it might be worth a try.