Hey buddy, hear me out on this. You’re not alone.
I’m 20 years old right now. I started hitting weights hard when I was 18. I saw some incredible gains in a relatively short amount of time, I gained all this lean muscle, but the entire time I was feeling this stubborn pain in my low back. I kept pushing through it for months and definitely got stronger, but eventually I decided what I was doing was not going to be optimal in the long run, so I shut everything down. I stopped squatting and deadlifting, and also had to stop pressing and what not because of a shoulder misalignment/imbalance issue that was putting stress on the shoulder joint.
It was fucking brutal. I lost all of that strength that I had built up and being that I’m a naturally thin person I was back down about 10 lbs from what I was. I got some MRIs done on my lumbar spine and there ended up being a slight herniation of L5/S1 as well as a low-level pars interarticularis fracture.
With this diagnosis, I went to a bunch of therapists as well as some well-renowned doctors. None of them really gave me much that would help.
I then went to see an affiliate of Dr. Stuart McGill, which if you don’t know who that is, he is essentially the God of the Human Spine. He laid everything out for me, told me I would need to rest, and told me I would need to strengthen and reprogram my motor skills to be able to protect my lower back.
I took all of his advice, followed it religiously. To give you a timeline breakdown, started it in January of this year. All I did for the first months was core strengthening (and not your typical “6 pack abs” workout; I worked on getting my deep core muscles strong and firing to firm up to protect my spine). I honestly didn’t actively feel too much improvement at first.
I started hitting the gym again in late March and did mostly high rep bodyweight stuff and actually squatted light weights too. I slowly worked up to about a 150 lb squat, then transferred to a periodization program by the time June rolled around. I again followed this program religiously while still doing the exercises for core strength almost daily. I was squatting, deadlifting, benching, pressing once a week respectively.
Right now, its November, I’m squatting 265 lbs 5x5 with no low back pain. It’s all about retraining your body to move efficiently. This proved to me that even if an injury is relatively severe, if muscles are engaged and working properly, you can overcome any kind of pain. You have to let the muscles do the work and not the joints. Specifically, if we’re talking L5/S1, I had to teach myself to protect my spine, specifically prevent any kind of flexion in squat (butt wink).
It wasn’t easy. It takes a lot of mental wherewithal and focus to change your motor patterns. But it’s a necessity, with any injury.
Just don’t lose hope my friend. And I know it’s easier said than done, but figure out a way to disassociate your identity with your physical ability or your pain. Branch out and do stuff with your life. Any injury like this will take time to get over, don’t let yourself go crazy in the meantime. Live and love the world around you. There’s more to it than pain. I know how much this sucks dude, trust me, I was depressed as well about it. It actually made me make some significant changes in my life. But I think when things started to get better most is when I detached my sense of worth with how able I am. That is just one piece of me. There is so much more to it than that.
Good luck with everything. Strengthen your core. You will be okay eventually, just don’t stop learning and don’t stop trying, and most importantly, don’t stop living.