Sciatica serves lessons in pain

My wife warned me long ago.

“You shouldn’t run every day,” she said. “You should have a day when you rest or swim.”

Rest? Ha. Nonsense. That’s for the weak. Swimming? Sorry, I know sharks are out there.

I didn’t listen. Instead, I ran every day, through January, February, March and April. Piled up the miles. My friend Basil Scott tried to caution me when I would tell him I ran 15 hill sprints of 40 seconds each.

“That’s a lot,” he said. “Six or seven would be a good workout.”

Perhaps I should have listened to them.

Gradually, I began to notice a pain in my left leg. Just slight, but enough to get my attention. Kind of just extended from my lower spine through the buttock, down the thigh and into the calf. Not really painful. More annoying than anything. First, I ran through it. Didn’t hurt enough to slow me down. Took an Aleve, rubbed some IcyHeat Noni on it, and that helped. Figured it would go away. It didn’t. Trips to the chiropractor helped, too, and it was better for a time.

But that pain was relentless and returned.

My gimpy leg forced me to slow down. My pace turned glacial. Still, I ran on, refusing to miss a day. There could be no rest for the wicked.

Finally, on a training run with Basil when he left me far behind as I limped along and wilted on a humid day, I thought, enough. The running streak of 2017 ended at 122 days, probably too much for someone my age.

The problem, I learned, was my sciatic nerve. Something was pinching it, putting pressure on it. I have heard of sciatica. Heard people talk about it, but never experienced it. Until now. The good news is, it hurts pretty much when I sit or run. Standing, walking, is OK.

In a quick bit of research, I read the following: “The sciatic nerve is the largest single nerve in the human body; it runs from each side of the lower spine through deep in the buttock into the back of the thigh and all the way down to the foot. It serves a vital role in connecting the spinal cord with the leg and foot muscles.”

I read up on stretches and have been trying them. I didn’t quit running cold turkey. Yes, I’m a slow learner. After a few days off, I was back at it. Still hurt, but bearable if I ran slow. Sunday, I plodded through the world’s slowest three miles before my wife and I drove to Tunnels Beach, where we parked and walked to Ke‘e Beach, slept and swam, and then walked back. Breathtakingly beautiful, by the way, and I highly recommend it.

The leg was fine until I hopped over a rock and felt a sudden, sharp pain, like an electric shock, down the entire leg. Nope. Not back to normal.

One treatment I read about was sitting on a tennis ball on the floor, what’s known as myofascial release, described as “an alternative medicine therapy that claims to treat skeletal muscle immobility and pain by relaxing contracted muscles, improving blood and lymphatic circulation, and stimulating the stretch reflex in muscles.”

It hurt like heck, but helped.

My wife, who seems to know about these things, stepped in with a more pointed treatment. In brief, she told me to lay face down, relax, and she proceeded to use her elbow to massage the troublesome location on my left butt. She said something about improving blow flow and promoting healing.

I don’t know about that, but I know it was excruciating. I yelped in agony. Each time I took a breath, she redirected her elbow and grinded it into a new spot that caused me to cringe and cry out for mercy. I bellowed like a baby. Whimpered for the few minutes I could stand it. Then, she moved her elbow and pushed down. Torture, I tell you. Good God, it’s nearly unbearable. I’ve long bragged I am impervious to all pain. I am not.

But you know what?

It’s working.

After four of my wife’s elbow treatments, the sciatic nerve is settling down. I heeded her advice to not run Monday and take an anti-inflammatory. Against her advice, I ran an easy four miles Tuesday morning. It felt better. Still hurt a bit if I tried to run fast, but I finished without pain. I’m in a hurry (as usual) to get better because the 37th annual Haena to Hanalei eight mile race is just a few weeks away, and I want to do well there.

So, if it means enduring more sessions of my wife’s elbow treatment, so be it. I can take it. Well, kind of take it.

There is one thing that bothers me, though. My wife is having way too much fun.


Bill Buley is editor of The Garden Island. He can be reached at


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