T Nation

6 Months After L4-L5 Disc Herniation

Hey all,

I’m posting this here because I’m sure there have been some other folks who have gone through something like this, and I’m curious to hear your opinions / experiences.

I starting powerlifting a couple years back, after getting bored with bodybuilder-style training. Found a really good crew in my area, competed in a meet, was training for a second. The only injuries I suffered were minor strains on either side of my lower lumbar region (around L4-L5) and same thing up around the cervical spine (in the meat of the upper back). I could recover from these with 3 days of rest and foam roller stuff.

In August 2009, I widened my squat stance to get more out of the gear. I was at about shoulder width with my feet. I did a lot of back squats, front squats (those with narrow stance), and platform deadlifts. Trained mostly raw. I kept up with cardio and i biked everywhere. I noticed a twinge in my left hip after most squat sets, but if I poked at it, the pain seemed to ‘move around’ . It quickly faded after the training session.

This gradually got worse, and moved into my left lower back all the way to the spine. Within a month, I had massive back spasms and sharp burny pain in a line from my left lumbar spine region, all the way through the quadratus and gluteus maximus and into the meat of my hip. I went to physio but after two sessions I realized she was doing squat for me.

I then went to one sports doctor / chiro who was omnipresent at all of our meets, and who really seemed to know his stuff. He did some mechanical tests. The diagnosing test was as follows: If I sat ‘hunched’ on a table, he was able to force my left foot down to the ground with his hands. If I straightened my posture, he was unable to do this. He diagnosed me with a posterior-left-later L4-L5 disc herniation, and treated it with ART and very brief bouts of traction. I never really felt my condition improve immediately after treatment.

In my everyday life, I tried a variety of things to speed recovery. I made sure my sitting posture was straight up (didn’t know to use a variable position at this point), I walked as much as I could with shoulder movement and head held high, I assumed the Mckenzie posture for an hour or two every night. The sports doctor encouraged me to try squatting or deadlifting heavy one a month to see how I was progressing, and I did it desipite the fact that I didn’t feel like it was the smartest thing to be doing. With very few exceptions, it would make things worse. Most days I had burning sciatic pain, and walking for any significant distance would cause my lower back to shake like crazy, as if it had no strength in it.

Anyhow, fast forward to December 2009. Things were good. The sports doctor told me that the disc had ‘gone back in’, and that I was more or less cured.

I found that if I took a week off from ‘training’ completely, in any way (like, if I was completely laid out by a virus and had to spend a lot of time in bed), I was pain free, and I could do cardio and bodyweight training without pain. I read Stuart McGill’s “Lower Back Disorders” book, watched Magnificent mobility, and was about to set out on my own personal rehab plan to get me back to 100%. My only remaining symptoms were (a) my abs felt constantly exhausted and my abdominal wall felt like it was ‘sagging’ out, and (b) i had occasional tingling in both feet.

Then, one night in late december, I was sleeping on the couch (visiting friends were occupying my bed), and I felt my muscles go tingly and numb in my entire lower body, including my groin. It felt like the sensation you get when you sleep on your arm for several hours and then let it loose, except without as much tingling - it was mostly that heavy, weak, ‘uncoordinated’ feeling. I was told to go the ER if this ever happened to me (b/c of possible cauda equina), so I did, and they performed a few VERY unpleasant tests on me (lol). The cauda equina came out negative, but the doctor on call said it was time for me to get an MRI. I’d had trouble getting one before for various reasons, but he scribbled me a note to bring to my family doctor.

So now I was in this unique position, right – because I was about to get an MRI -after- someone told me that a treatment had reversed the condition. I was curious as to what they would find.

The results came back a couple weeks ago. I don’t have the images on me, but the diagnoses was “Very small central disc herniation at L4-L5. Minimal indentation of the anterior margin of the thecal sac. There is no apparent effect on the underlying nerve structures. Neural foramina remain patent.” The doctor referred me to a neurologist, and I’m supposed to go there on March 8th. But this was interesting to me – was the herniation previously worse? Or had it always been this small? Is it actually the cause of the symptoms I’m experiencing now? Etc.

My everyday symptoms haven’t changed much. If I train for a couple of days in a row, or if I sit on a hard surface for a short time, or if I sit on my office chair (day job) for a full day for a few days (even with rest breaks every 20-30 mins), I get this awful feeling of ‘heaviness’ in my glutes, quads, calves, and feet on both sides of my body. (It doesn’t show up in my groin any longer, thankfully.) The left side is worse than the right, and symptoms fade slower from it. I also get the feeling of ‘abdominal sagging’ that I described above if I do a fair amount of walking or short bouts of cardio.

My ‘training’ right now is this; 5 mornings a week, I walk at a fast pace to the gym, which takes about 20 mins. I then do about 15 mins of mobility drills from Magnificent Mobility. This is followed up by 15 - 20 mins of elliptical, treadmill, stairmaster, or bike, either at steady-state or using intervals. I then walk back home (another 20 mins). Later in the day, I will do the “big three” from McGill’s book (ab curls, side bridges, bird dogs) using the parameters laid out there.

3 days a week, I’ll do some bodyweight resistance training, like lunges, hindu squats, pushups, hindu pushups, pullups, etc. I still don’t do anything that involves lumbar flexion.

I’ve been doing this for 3 weeks now, and my symptoms remain more or less unchanged, so I’m trying to figure out what else I could be doing to get rid of this numb feeling, aside from lying around like a fatass for a week. The exercises are definitely improving my coordination and motion, and I hit fewer ‘sticking points’ in my movements, but I don’t think they’re going to address the underlying neurological dysfunction. I’ll keep doing them though. But I’m sort of wondering what to do next. I believe that this will eventually clear up on its own if I continue with the kinds of activities I’m doing now, but I’m looking for other recovery avenues to pursue as well.

Any thoughts? My apologies for the wall of text, I tried to trim it down as much as possible and I left out many incidental details, and the whole story was still kind of long. 6 months of foobar is hard to condense into a few paragraphs :slight_smile: