Herniated a disc? Or just suffering from an injury that’s holding you back? Skip the pain, setbacks, and mistakes and learn from mine.
Let me tell you something, disc herniations suck, but If you’re reading this, then you’re probably laying down with pillows under your knees and already know that.
I know from experience. In the spring of 2015, I suffered an L5/S1 partial disc herniation.
Good news! You have way more options to binge watch on Netflix than I did back then.
Besides Netflix, here is some more good news. A disc injury is not the end of your lifting career or fitness endeavors. This is a developmental stage that will make you become a smarter, more conscious mover than you were before. You will also learn what it is to put the ego aside and forgo extra heavy reps just because you can. Most of those world champions you see on youtube? They have disc injuries, on top of other injuries, on top of poor credit and are STILL performing at the top of the species.
Now, time for some bad news, well at least for me, but good for you in a little bit of a sadistic way.
I just herniated that L5/S1 disc again. Literally just did it. I’m actually typing this from my bedroom floor where it happened yesterday. I’ve been here ever since, living my best life with my new dust bunny friends, Jared, and Kevin from under the bed. Please uber me some Pho and bubble tea.
I’m kidding, but seriously, I will not turn down pho.
Ok, so here’s where I start being helpful to you.
I had this injury 3 years ago and It took me 6 months to get back to where I could be slightly active without pain.
This go-round at 20 days in, I am doing things that I couldn’t do 3 months into recovery the last time. It still hurts, its still an injury, but I’m faring much better and not depressed from becoming sedentary.
So let me share with you what I learned from the first injury and is making the difference in this one.
1. If you can’t tie your shoes for 3 days. GO TO THE DOCTOR.
I did not have insurance the first time I was injured #athletelife #instagramsponsorswillsaveme. But I still should have gone. A couple hundred bucks and some x-rays put on a credit card hurt a lot less than having to restructure your life and be in constant pain.
*X-rays will not tell give a yes/no for a disc herniation, but a good doctor can see the space between your discs. Between that, and your symptoms he can recommend further imaging, or that you rest it and take two Anicin and call him in the morning. *Is Anicin still a thing? Chiros and PTs are an option for recovering. I personally go to Brady Declerk at Omnis Rehab, Though I think his real name is Rex for some reason…
2. Do not do things that hurt…
3. Do not do things that hurt.
If your body is splinting itself to stop you from making a painful movement pattern, listen to it. Stop bending over to pick up your kids toys. I’ll give you alternatives that hurt much less and are proven to be less harmful to your now compact disc. <-Little millennial joke there.
If you need to pick things up, do a sumo deadlift or wide stance squat. It takes pressure off the back and puts it in the hips.
4. Do not Sit
I installed a Husky adjustable workbench in my office 3 months after the first time I was injured. After a week of not sitting (except driving) I was in far less pain and showed improved Range of motion. Sitting places the most pressure on the spine while at rest. Your legs need to split your weight in the way they were designed to do.
5. Take care of your mind.
Any major life change will affect your psychology. I make sure that I stay around people and talk about things not related to my injury. I show up to workouts to just watch and cheer on others because it makes me happy. I also make sure I play with my dogs A LOT because happy dogs make me happy. I picked up playing guitar again so I can learn new songs and feel like I am improving at something that requires me to be present. Working with my hands has always been a de-stressor for me.
6. NO LOWER BODY-WORK until you are past the acute phase of the injury.
Your body is currently trying to repair itself back to a baseline level of internal and structural integrity. Giving it something else to recover from (muscle breakdown and possibly harmful movement patterns) will not help. When the person in charge of your treatment releases you to do lower body work, go for it. Until then, start writing out some cool upper-body-based goals that would be cool to reach.
-Body weight bench press (or more).
-Trying accommodating resistance with bands, chains, and other cool things you’ve never tried that would be cool to learn.
-Work on your muscle up.
-Bench press some more (I’m gonna bench press my way into wearing a C-cup if I’m not careful).
-Doing dips with chains around your neck makes you look badass, or the ghost of Christmas past, who cares. I like to say OOooOO when I do them.
-Work on mobility that you “never had the time for” beforehand.
-The list goes on
7. Learn from the experience.
You’re ultimately going to handle this one of two ways. Do nothing and use the injury as an excuse to stop taking care of yourself…OR…
You’re going to come out of it more resilient by looking for beauty in negative spaces. Because you cannot do some of the things you did before, does not mean there is not a world of things you never did, to begin with. I guarantee you have not PR’d your 10RM floor-press with band resistance. I have, and it’s comically light. But who cares, I just PR’d and probably have the record in my state now. Because, come on, who is really doing that besides me?
That’s how you come back stronger. It starts with the mindset to not be defeated. Then, apply these 6 steps religiously and listen to your doctor. You got this.