It started over ten years ago when I was pregnant with my second child. I would get shooting pains down my left leg and buttock. Once while at work, I remember my coworkers thought I was going into labor because I was walking towards my patients’ room, and all of a sudden, I got a shooting pain in my left groin and buttocks that literally stopped me in my tracks. I asked my OBGYN about these weird pains, and she said it sounded like sciatica from the extra pressure of the baby, and it would get better after I delivered.
I delivered my son, and the shooting pains did subside, but over the next year and a half, I started noticing lower back pain, a constant dull stiff kind of ache. It didn’t bother me much unless I sat, walked, or stood too long. It was easily relieved by changing my position and taking Tylenol. After a while, I decided I couldn’t keep taking Tylenol for the rest of my life, so I figured I needed to heal my back. I also had diastasis recti from pregnancy and knew that I needed to strengthen my core. The idea was to start an exercise program to strengthen my core, and by strengthening my core, my back wouldn’t have to work so hard, and maybe the pain would go away?
I chose yoga! I was initially focused on core strength, and I began doing planks, arm balances, and all kinds of challenging poses. I ended up injuring my shoulder a few times because I lacked core strength and my alignment was off. I had no business as a self-taught yogi trying to do advanced poses. At this point, I decided to take a more gentle approach and started looking into restorative and therapeutic yoga. I had found my niche! I loved Iyengar yoga because of the focus on alignment and therapeutic approach. Just doing a few poses a day cat/cow, mountain, downward dog, tree, warrior, I started to notice my back pain was better. I no longer had to carry Tylenol everywhere, and I could sit, stand, and walk without pain!.
My back didn’t bother me for years; I think because I did so much yoga. By so much, maybe 10-15 minutes of a couple poses a few times a week. I was also very intentional about my posture during the day. But then things started to get crazy again a few years later. I got diagnosed with lupus and couldn’t do the level of yoga I was doing before. I began to notice standing poses would exhaust me, my knees and hips would hurt, and it seemed almost any pose caused that sciatic and low back pain to exacerbate. Driving also became an issue. My 1 hr commute to work would leave me limping from my car. My hips and low back would get so sore just from driving to work.
Since yoga was causing me issues, I turned to Yoga Nidra, chair yoga, and walking. But with walking, the same thing would happen, after about 10 minutes or so my hips would hurt, especially the right hip and I’d be limping, my knees hurt and felt like they couldn’t support my weight. This was when I got nervous because I thought I developed avascular necrosis. I told my rheumatologist, and she ordered Xrays. My hips looked fine on Xray, but she was concerned about my sacroiliac joint. It showed some irregularities,so she ordered an Xray of the SI joint. This Xray then showed both my SI joints had what looked like inflammatory changes. It also picked up “transitional vertebrae”. She orders an MRI to rule out active inflammation because she was concerned I had ankylosing spondylitis. The MRI was fine… it showed the same damage to my SI joints but no active inflammation. The MRI also confirmed Bertolittis syndrome and picked up Tarlov cysts. I was then referred to a sports medicine MD and physical therapy. This is where I am today, awaiting my appointments while dealing with this mildly annoying low back pain and difficulty walking, sitting, and standing. I thank God the pain isn’t severe and that I don’t have another inflammatory condition.
At the beginning of my back pain journey, I knew something had to be wrong, but I also knew that the options for me would be medicine and/or surgery, and I didn’t want that. I knew yoga would help, and it did. Most of what I’ve read so far about Bertolotti’s syndrome and tarlov systs recommend surgery, and most patients have a lot of pain. This leaves me to wonder if yoga has kept my pain from getting severe? Will I need surgery to get rid of the pain ultimately? Will it get worse if I don’t do surgery? Have I been harming myself with my own self-prescribed exercise regimens? To be continued!