Saturday, September 7, 2013


Illustration of how a herniated disk (shown in blue) can cause spinal nerve inflamation (shown in red). If this happens in the lower back, sciatica results. This picture courtesy of Wikipedia.

It has been almost three weeks without a blog post, and I regret that very much. There are a number of reasons, including:
  • My wife and I were on vacation. We used this vacation to stay home and focus on some home improvement projects. I had hoped I would be able to continue with my posts during this vacation but...
  • The post I had planned for two weeks ago, a discussion of the virtues of working on my own bicycle as opposed to having this done at my local bike shop, turned out to be harder to write than I had expected, making it impossible to complete whilst home improving and whilst suffering from...
  • Sciatica.
Although I have had sciatica for couple of years now, recently it has gotten significantly worse, and the pain is sufficiently distracting as to make it difficult to focus on anything, including this blog. Besides being an excuse, my sciatica might result in part from my cycling (see below), which if true, will dramatically impact my future cycling, making it a topic for this blog.

As Wikipedia notes, sciatica is a symptom that can result from a number of diseases, it is not a disease in and of itself. The symptom of sciatica is shooting pain or numbness in the buttocks or rear of the leg caused by inflammation of the sciatic nerve. There are many diseases that can cause this inflammation, but the most common is when the disk that separates the bones of the spine herniates, causing it to pinch the sciatic nerve where it exits the spine to go into the leg (illustrated above). This herniation can itself be caused by a number of things, but in my case, the most likely cause is simply aging. Thus, it would be unfair to blame cycling for my sciatica. That said, once sciatica occurs, there are many things that can make it worse, such as poor posture, sitting incorrectly, standing too long, etc. In the best case, sciatica can be managed by over the counter pain medication and behavior changes such as sitting less, back supports, better posture, etc. I have never read that cycling aggravates sciatica, but my sciatica got dramatically worse immediately after my 200K brevet last May, a fact I noted at the time. Back then, my explanation was that this was a generalized effect of exhaustion, like the cold I got at the same time. As I have researched sciatica in order to manage it, however, another hypothesis has recommended itself, that the posture I assume when sitting on my bicycle might itself aggravate my sciatica. If this is true, what would have prevented me from noticing this immediately is that the behaviors which aggravate sciatica do not necessary hurt at the time; cycling would not need to be painful to be an aggravating factor. For example, I always feel fine while sitting, it's only later I notice my sciatica is worse. I am far from convinced this is the case for cycling, but it is one more thing I will be watching. In a week I will be riding 63 miles in the Tour de Pink, and a week after that, 65 miles in the Back Roads Century. If I notice my sciatica getting worse, I will consider cutting back on riding significantly to see if that reverses the effect. As always, I will report on progress in future posts.

Next week I plan to finally post on do it yourself bicycle repairs vs the local bike shop.

MAF Test Results

For those new to this blog, each week I am posting an update of my training results; see my previous posts for explanations of my aerobic training program, MAF tests, and this graph.

For weeks now I have been arguing that my MAF test results had plateaued, that they were not increasing. This week's graph is certainly consistent with that, but if you squint real hard, you might imagine that the last several results have been tending upwards. That could correspond to riding some longer rides (up to 50 miles) with my wife to get her ready for the Tour de Pink. Time will tell.


  1. The two things I did to manage my sciatica (which is now more or less gone) were:

    1) Cat/camels every morning:

    In particular, I came to feel that it's crucial to get your head and neck involved in the movement. The effectiveness of cat/camels is generally ascribed (by lifters) to "nerve flossing", and I definitely notice that the movement seems like more of a stretch when I have my head and neck down. I guess you can't floss nerves without moving their attachment points around.

    2) Fish oil (for inflammation):
    You could probably use anything anti-inflammatory.

    - Matthew

    1. Thanks, I'll definitely have to give these ideas a try.

  2. I've been living with sciatica for about 4 years now. In that time I've also been a fairly active randonneur (an SR series every year, a 1200, a 1000, fleches, etc). I've never found the ebb and flow of the sciatica symptoms to have any correlation with the amount of riding I'm doing. However, I can say with certainty that when the symptoms are at their worse, I'm more comfortable on a bicycle than anywhere else.

    Good luck with it. I know sciatica can really be a pain in the butt.

  3. Nice post.........In my viewSciatica is a relatively common form of lower back and leg pain, but the true meaning of the term is often misunderstood. Sciatica is a set of symptoms rather than a diagnosis for what is irritating the root of the nerve to cause the pain.fertility acupuncture nj