Road trip/camping with sciatic pain?
July 6, 2010 11:12 AM   Subscribe

Car camping on the California coast with sciatica? Help us find things to do that won't exacerbate the pain.

Road trip and camping! Comfy foam pad for sleeping, ice pack for long drives (up to 4hrs at a time). We are making our way from San Diego to San Fransico and back over the course of 2 weeks. We'll be camping at Morrow Bay, San Simeon, Henry Cowell, Sunset Beach, Plaskett Creek, Point Mugu. My girlfriend's sciatica is generally under control in normal life, but the only form of vigorous exercise that she can safely do is swimming. We are not skilled at being highly sedentary- we like to hike and bike. The pain is frustrating enough for her, so I'd like to avoid more angst over the fact that we can't do the things we'd normally want to.

We're looking for outdoorsy/nature-centric things to do that don't involve too much exertion. Or money. Can anyone recommend activities or destinations that will get us out and about under these conditions? Nature walks, lovely drives, cool little towns in the area? Art and music are also high on our list, and we have plenty of free time.

(Also, there are lots of threads about sciatica, but any specific experience/advice about mitigating pain while on a road trip would be highly appreciated!)
posted by palacewalls to Travel & Transportation around California (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
There is beach access at willow creek bridge, day use only, free ! just south of Plaskett.
posted by hortense at 11:34 AM on July 6, 2010

Sciatica, meet massage, plus the single most beautiful hot spring on the planet, 20 miles north of Plaskett.
posted by hortense at 11:43 AM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

My mom did a few things while camping/roadtripping to help deal with her sciatica. She is a believer in getting ahead of the pain, so she would take her muscle relaxant and pain med (I think just advil) BEFORE getting into the car (or airplane etc) and not waiting until she was already hurting. Sometimes on long rides my sis and I would scoot to one side of the backseat (dad driving) and she would lean her front as far back as possible just to be in a different, not so sitting, position. She swam a lot durning camping and would go along for the short hikes. I also got very good at massaging her lower back/hips in the evening, to help with muscles that were compensating for the sciatica numb/pain durning hikes. Mostly Mom took it as easy as possible during camping trips, which meants she came home well rested, while we were so worn out from all the sun and fun.
posted by Swisstine at 12:08 PM on July 6, 2010

First, I don't know anything about sciatic pain, but it sounds like your girlfriend still wants to be active, but in smaller doses. If you're worried about anything I list, I could go into more detail about what the activities might involve.

Second, what are your dates for this trip? There's a lot going on in the summer, but much is date-specific. For instance, here's the dates for Concerts in the Park (PDF), for dates from July 1st through August 19th, and other special events put on by/through SB Parks & Rec (PDF) in July and August. There are Old Spanish Days / Fiesta events throughout summer, though you may want to avoid the downtown Fiesta itself, as it's really packed and probably more jostling than fun.

Always there things: Santa Barbara zoo is pretty keen, as far as zoos go. Nothing like the San Diego Zoo or Wild Animal Park, but not hokey or depressing like a really small-town zoo might be. Admission is $12 for adults, and I think it's worth it (though nostalgia may be playing a part in this). It's not too big, so it wouldn't be overwhelming (I think), though there might be more kids in these summer days (it's been a while since I've gone).

As mentioned in a prior get-away in SB AskMe thread, Lotusland is lovely, a large, sprawling garden. You have to book in advance, and its $35 per adult for a 2 hour tour of the grounds, and I thought there were some free tour days, but I can't find any info online at the moment. Less expensive, though with fewer flowers: Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History is $10 per adult, and is not too large, but has buildings sprawling in a nice oak woodland setting. The Santa Barbara Museum of Art is $9 per adult, and "suggested admission" every Sunday.

Santa Barbara has a lot of lovely little trails, in the hills and along the beach. Santa Barbara Hikes is a pretty good source for treks around the area. Even if you don't do full trails, you can get out of the car and wander as far as you please. The beaches will probably be foggy in the morning, which can cut down on the number of people.

Farther north: Gaviota Hot Springs is an odd little spot off of the 101. That description of 5.5 miles is to the peak, but it's only a half mile or so to the hot springs.

There are a bunch of trails around San Luis Obispo, and that site lists the lengths of the trails, if you wish to sort them that way. MontaƱa De Oro has some nice beach-front trails, and there are a few nice stands of oaks in Los Osos, one state reserve and the other is the Elfin Forest preserve, which has a boardwalk winding through a forest of pygmy oaks.

Morro Bay (now "W" =) is a nice little beach town, and would probably serve all your "little beach town" wants and needs, so you can skip the Five Cities area to the south, unless you really want some clam chowder. If you don't want to stop in Pismo, you can go onto San Luis Obispo to their sister store.

Heading north, there is the Elephant Seal rookery, where you can park and see the elephant seals molting. I'm not sure if that's a great draw, but it's on your way north, just after the tiny community of San Simeon, and before Hearst Castle. You can tour the "castle" for $24 per adult for one of four tours, or the option for a self-guided tour. It can be overwhelming, and may be pricey for your wishes, but I'd say it's something to see eventually.

And pretty soon, you'll be in the Big Sur area, discussed previously in AskMe. It's a beautiful, winding trip, and there are a number of short walks/hikes in the area (see my previous comment, as this is already a lengthy answer =)
posted by filthy light thief at 1:03 PM on July 6, 2010 [3 favorites]

When you say comfy foam pad, I hope you aren't referring to a typical backpacker's 1/2 inch foam pad. I would bring an inflatable mattress in any case, foam is great as long as you're on a flat level surface but it doesn't really hide surface irregularities. Even memory foam has to be pretty thick before you can hide a rock under it.
posted by doctor_negative at 1:45 PM on July 6, 2010

Thanks for your suggestions everyone. Special thanks to filthy light thief for the very thorough roundup of links and tips- if your response wasn't so thoughtful, I would have assumed you were a bot working for the California Chamber of Commerce.
posted by palacewalls at 8:19 PM on July 6, 2010

I've lived in SB for much of my life, and now I live 2 hours up the road. I've been to the Big Sur area, and I am happy to share my enjoyment of the area with others.

I wish you and your girlfriend all the best on this trip.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:30 PM on July 6, 2010

Not specifically road-trip-related, but on the sciatica front, I'd recommend getting a copy of the book Pain Free by Pete Egoscue. I post about the Egoscue Method with some frequency because it's made such a huge difference for me.

(Getting pushy here...) I'd suggest getting a copy immediately (your local library may have it, so no need to buy a copy until your girlfriend has had a chance to see how it works for her) — if she can give the exercises a try for even a few days before you leave, they might really help. When I got the book from the library and started doing the exercises, I was six weeks into the worst sciatica attack I'd ever had (after 15 years of recurrent back pain that sometimes got up to the back brace + cane level) and feeling desperate to get off the opiate painkillers. Four days after starting the exercises, I looked at the clock and realized it was 4:30 pm and I hadn't taken a painkiller that day — and it wasn't because I was trying to tough through the pain, it was because I'd forgotten about it.

The exercises are gentle and low-stress (no sweating involved) and can probably be incorporated into your camping trip fairly easily — they might take 20 minutes or half an hour, which your girlfriend could do in the morning before you hit the road. Of course, if they're helpful for her, she can also easily do them throughout the day.

Very best wishes to your girlfriend. Sciatica is horrible.
posted by Lexica at 7:29 PM on July 7, 2010

« Older I don't believe in Santa anymore anyway.   |   Help me find someone to cut unfinished wood in the... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.