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Returning from lower back injuries

Old 04-25-19, 03:28 AM
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Kaben
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Returning from lower back injuries

Hi all,

This is more of a discussion of your own experiences rather than me looking for any hard and fast advice.

I herniated a disc in my back by slipping off a railway sleeper whilst gardening in my garden late January ( such a middle aged injury). The motion was very sudden and violent and the angle i was leant in meant that one of my lower lumbar spine discs herniated badly. It was an awkward angle and would have injured anyones spine my specialist has said.

I have been undergoing therapy for the injury since early feb with physio and chiropractor but the progression has been very slow. At first pain was constant and i could hardly stand let alone think of exercising ( i had a huge list which meant my hips were completely out of line with my shoulders). Now at just over 12 weeks in I'm able to walk around normally but things like bending over has to be done slowly. Returning to heavy lifting and sprint training still seems some way off. Im just on the cusp of being able to pedal without lower back pain.

My question is this - has anyone else here suffered a similar injury or know people who have? My physio and chiropractor are only interested in getting me back to "normal life" not so much getting back to my cycling goals.
Just want to get some perspectives from people who have gone through this as i'm getting seriously depressed about it all. At the time of the injury i was at my pb for squats and deadlift and my back health actually felt the best it had been in my life. My track times were constantly improving and i had actually signed up for World Masters in Manchester this October. Now with 3 months off the bike and likely more until i can train properly i think my chances of taking part meaningfully in this event are slim. I know theres always next year but im not sure if there is even light at the end of this tunnel so im hoping someone else can say they have been through it!

If its of any relevance, i am 35.

(Sorry if this seems self indulgent - I just need some other peoples perspectives! Cycling is a big part of my life)
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Old 04-25-19, 05:16 AM
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Originally Posted by Kaben View Post
Hi all,

This is more of a discussion of your own experiences rather than me looking for any hard and fast advice.

I herniated a disc in my back by slipping off a railway sleeper whilst gardening in my garden late January ( such a middle aged injury). The motion was very sudden and violent and the angle i was leant in meant that one of my lower lumbar spine discs herniated badly. It was an awkward angle and would have injured anyones spine my specialist has said.

I have been undergoing therapy for the injury since early feb with physio and chiropractor but the progression has been very slow. At first pain was constant and i could hardly stand let alone think of exercising ( i had a huge list which meant my hips were completely out of line with my shoulders). Now at just over 12 weeks in I'm able to walk around normally but things like bending over has to be done slowly. Returning to heavy lifting and sprint training still seems some way off. Im just on the cusp of being able to pedal without lower back pain.

My question is this - has anyone else here suffered a similar injury or know people who have? My physio and chiropractor are only interested in getting me back to "normal life" not so much getting back to my cycling goals.
Just want to get some perspectives from people who have gone through this as i'm getting seriously depressed about it all. At the time of the injury i was at my pb for squats and deadlift and my back health actually felt the best it had been in my life. My track times were constantly improving and i had actually signed up for World Masters in Manchester this October. Now with 3 months off the bike and likely more until i can train properly i think my chances of taking part meaningfully in this event are slim. I know theres always next year but im not sure if there is even light at the end of this tunnel so im hoping someone else can say they have been through it!

If its of any relevance, i am 35.

(Sorry if this seems self indulgent - I just need some other peoples perspectives! Cycling is a big part of my life)
I have had two herniated discs (L3/4; L4/5) and I can tell you that you should be just fine with cycling and weight training - but you'll need to be a bit patient with the cycling goals. Three months isn't a long time but you should be working back on your activities.
There will be activities compromised by the back injury. I find anything involving torquing or twisting the back (the twisting motion in golf or tennis, say) irritates it. I did play hockey for years after my first injury, but the second led me to "retire." But cycling and lifting have contributed to a far healthier back. In fact, when I finally got over my wariness about squatting heavy (after years of doing leg extensions and leg presses), I found my back has actually been much better. A few thoughts:
- What may for a while feel like a problem will simply become the "new normal." Your back will be stiffer getting out of bed, take longer to loosen up, and fatigue a bit more quickly. It is what it is. I ruptured my first disk at 29, and you just get used to some compromises.
- Squatting heavy is great for the back if you use very strict form. Consult Starting Strength or other such sources. Warm up with deliberation, starting with the empty bar, then 95lbs, etc. Use a good belt, use proper bracing and breathing technique, never let the bar get ahead of mid foot, keep the back neutral (avoiding "butt wink" at the bottom of the squat and avoiding lifting your head at the top) and start with low weights, and in time you'll feel great. For reference, I'm currently squatting 285 lbs for 5 reps at age 61, with two blown discs, and no back issues.
- Deadlifts are something different. I think they are a needless risk on some level. I do trap-bar deadlifts because they're significantly easier on the back. Rack pulls would also work. And interestingly, the lift that's worst for my back are bench presses, because of the arching of the back that's nearly unavoidable using standard form. I keep a flat back by putting my feet on the end of the bench, not on the floor.
-flexibility is more important that ever. Not just hamstrings, but hip flexors, glutes medius, delts, etc. Cycling does make you tight; work to get loose. Tight muscles are the true contributor to disc problems, rather than the apparent cause (my first injury happened putting my kid in a car seat).
Anyway, a long answer to your question, but in time, your focus on your cycling goals will be the best thing for the back. I remember that three months after my first surgery, my back felt as if it were a two-by-four. I'd give it the full year's cycle to feel back to your best. But the way to get there is to engage in the cycling and lifting, carefully at first of course, and in consultation with the doctors. Don't be depressed; take on the challenge and it will be that much more satisfying when you're back to form!

Last edited by TDinBristol; 04-25-19 at 06:36 AM.
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Old 04-25-19, 06:46 AM
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Thanks so much for taking the time to reply to this. I can relate to a lot of what you have said and it is really heartening to hear you are back to the sport( and heavy lifting) after 2 such injuries. Perhaps i'm just being impatient but at the moment i feel so bloody useless at day to day activities that getting back to sport seems like a lifetime away.

Im actually on holiday for the next week so i will try and get as much swimming in as i can and then try to get back to lifting light when i am home to try and get the movements back. Starting Strength has been my bible ( after discovering it in the 2014 weight training thread actually) for my training and that progression has been easy to follow and the warmups are built in. Do you do much more warmup than the prescribed empty bar sets and the progressively higher weighted sets before your main lifts or do you find that is enough?
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Old 04-25-19, 08:56 AM
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Originally Posted by Kaben View Post
Thanks so much for taking the time to reply to this. I can relate to a lot of what you have said and it is really heartening to hear you are back to the sport( and heavy lifting) after 2 such injuries. Perhaps i'm just being impatient but at the moment i feel so bloody useless at day to day activities that getting back to sport seems like a lifetime away.

Im actually on holiday for the next week so i will try and get as much swimming in as i can and then try to get back to lifting light when i am home to try and get the movements back. Starting Strength has been my bible ( after discovering it in the 2014 weight training thread actually) for my training and that progression has been easy to follow and the warmups are built in. Do you do much more warmup than the prescribed empty bar sets and the progressively higher weighted sets before your main lifts or do you find that is enough?
Here's my last workout to show you the warmup (which I do on a squat rack in my basement- this could drive people at a commercial gym insane as they wait for their turn):
-25lb Goblet squats*10 reps (hold at the bottom of the last one for a full minute to get a good stretch).
-Empty bar*10. Sometimes 2 sets.
-95*10, 135*5, no belt.
-185*5, 225*5, 245*5, 265*2, with belt, thinking about strict technique. That last one with 2 reps "tells the back" you're getting heavy now.
-285*5. The actual full effort. Tighten that belt a bit more. If your form comes apart on any rep, that's your last rep - don't take chances. I also invested in squat shoes - worth it. Work on shoulder flexibility, which is bad for cyclists, so that doesn't cause you to curve the back or have bar too high on the back (I adopted Ben Pollack's so-called "talon" grip to keep the bar back where it needs to be). I don't do 3-by-5 because at my age, recovery time is too long.
A few other thoughts if they help:
-Once you're back riding hard and lifting big weights and looking back to normal, your friends will invariably ask you to help them move that sleeper sofa up two flights of narrow stairs. Don't do it! Anything that takes you out of a straight, neutral spine, and especially activities that involve twisting or weighting to one side, is your danger zone. My second injury was a result of agreeing to such nonsense, and 15 year later I'm still kicking myself - because I should have known better.
-You'll make adjustments on the bike as well. Standing starts are especially so. Keep the back neutral by looking at a spot 20 feet uptrack, rather than lifting the head in a way that hyperextends the spine. In bunch races, learn to look behind you without rotating your lower back. "Cheek on the shoulder," as they say.
-And, finally, something that may cause some disagreement from others. I would not be going to a chiropractor while your disk is still healing. Stick with a physical the****** until everything stabilizes. Once you're there, a chiropractor can really help keep the back in good shape. But not yet, IMHO.
Good luck!
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Old 04-25-19, 11:42 AM
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I haven't read this entire thread yet (at work), but just wanted to comment that I have 2 herniated discs. One happened in 2009 and one this year.

Cycling irritates the hell out of them. There is something about being bent over in a cycling position and the torque being transferred across the pelvis that lights my back on fire. I once trained 100% on the bike and spin bike. My coach was Kevin Mansker's coach Kirk Whiteman, who trained via functional strength. He calls it "Squatting on the Bike". The program was amazing. Hit the highest power numbers ever...and I had debilitating back pain. It wasn't the program's fault. It was my back.

I would literally be in so much pain I'd have to call out of work.

I had to supplement the program with squats in the gym. Doing low weights with moderate rep counts fixed me right up. To put that into perspective, when I was capable of squatting close to 400lbs for 5, I would just lift 3x10x135lbs. That was enough to create the core strength I needed to not experience pain. I would also deadlift. The pain went away.

(on a side note: When I was looking to push gains in the gym, I switched from squat to single leg press. I didn't try to squat for max weight.)

So, as odd as it sounds, whenever I start having back pain, either from my herniated discs or poor core strength from my "dad bod", the thing that works for me are squats and deadlifts with a moderate amount of weight.
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Old 04-25-19, 11:50 AM
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I just read the advice from @TDinBristol. I agree 100%!

Including avoiding helping people move (unnecessary risks to your back). It can be difficult to explain to your significant other that you can be so athletic on the bike and in the gym yet can't lift a sofa, but it's true. Explain that in those activities, the range of motion is limited and controlled.
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Old 04-25-19, 12:36 PM
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OP, this has been mentioned, but I really want to stress it - do not rush back. Take your time and recover fully.

At 35, you are just hitting the point where you body stops recovering like it used to. That was about the age when I noticed cuts took 6 weeks to heal instead of 3 days. Major injuries like your back take even longer. And the worst part is, you will start to feel fine even though you are not healed, and one little thing just slightly wrong can set you way back.
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Old 04-25-19, 02:19 PM
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I donít think that a herniated disc is considered a major back injury. They are also very common among amateur and professional athletes who participate in strength sports.

Not trying to downplay the injury. But itís not on the same level as things that cause paralysis or sensory deprivation.

Squatting and deadlifts are part of some paralysis rehabilitation protocols.

EDIT:

Here is Ryan Shazier.

During a Monday Night Football game against the Cincinnati Bengals on December 4, Shazier sustained what appeared to be a severe back injury after a head-on tackle. The hit left Shazier seemingly unable to move his legs. After stabilization he was taken to the hospital and the next morning revealed that he had sustained a spinal contusion. On December 7, Shazier underwent spinal stabilization surgery to secure the injured section of spine and to aid in his recovery. The surgery ended his 2017 season.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ryan_Shazier


Last edited by carleton; 04-25-19 at 02:32 PM.
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Old 04-26-19, 06:46 AM
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Maybe we have different standards of major.

No, a herniated disc is not life-threatening, but it does leave the OP with the potential for lifelong back pain and mobility issues, as well as with the potential for starting down the path of back surgeries. (Note, you never have one back surgery, you have your first back surgery.)

And unlike broken bones, soft tissue injuries are incredibly hard to evalute the current status. You may feel fine, the swelling may be down, and think you are recovered, but as I said, one little mistep can set you back to the beginning. Moreover, given the OPs age - 35 - this is a real concern. From my perspective, prior to 35, I could still pretty quickly bounce back from things. After 35, it took a lot longer.

I'll also note that I was 19 when I first herniated a disc in my back. It still took a good six months of physical therapy at 19 to get me back to a normal state, and I still deal with bouts of back pain more than 20 years later. I'm fortunate at this point in my life that I have adoped routines - including a half hour of daily stretching - that help me recover from them quickly.

I'm not trying to say this is the end of the OPs life, but just encouraging a cautious approach.

Also, I only do hex-bar deadlifts.
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Old 04-26-19, 04:33 PM
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Originally Posted by Kaben View Post
since early feb with physio and chiropractor
Just so you know, only a couple months of physio isn't very long when it comes to nerve/back stuff.

I'm a bit younger than you, 31, but I recently compressed my C6 nerve. It runs from the base of your neck through your thumb. I did it back in December, and for the first week I could barely get out of bed. It's now been 4 months and my right arm/hand strength is still not yet up to my left hand (I'm right handed) and at the lowest point after the injury I could not hold 1lbs in my right hand and extend my wrist. While I stopped physio only two months after the injury, it was on the condition that every time I went to the gym and also a few times a week at home, I would continue to do the exercises I was doing in the the******s' office. My right thumb will be numb forever in all likelihood. I still do exercises for my right arm four times a week.

Also, once you hit thirty, your spinal discs begin to compress more due to age, so herniations and compressed nerves become more common, even if you're not genetically pre-disposed for back pain.

I have a friend who has a family history of back trouble, and something that has really helped him return to lift heavy is both wearing a weightlifting belt, but more importantly, learning to brace properly with or without the belt on.

As others have said, give it time! Time and consistency are the keys to overcoming these sorts of things. The absolute worst thing you can do is to stop your physio once you "start feeling a bit better". You essentially cannot overdo it on the physical therapy.
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Old 04-26-19, 06:37 PM
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Planks and push ups

learn to love planks. And push ups

I injured L4/5 in 2007? It took a good long while to get to where things were normal. Occasionally it flares up and sets me back about 6 weeks. All it takes to recover and prevent is planks and push ups. Heavy work is not required.

And I refuse to pick up heavy stuff now.
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Old 05-07-19, 06:52 AM
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Thanks everyone for putting your experiences here - definitely helpful and i feel in less of a "funk" now.


Still a ways from starting any training but will work on strengthening my back little by little.

Also loving the excuse of not having to help anyone with moving anymore haha. Every cloud!
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