T Nation

Bulging Disc?


I think I have one... in the L5-S1 area. I am seeing a chiro on Saturday so I'll see what he says, but until then, I'd just like to see if anyone has any input

Symptoms: Pain in the L5-S1 area of the low back right on the posterior aspect of the spine. It is localized pain, and does not run down to my legs or anything. It feels exactly how a slipped disc would feel like, and I feel pain all the time right now... walking, sitting, and especially twisting/flexing/extending. It is a bit unbearable at times to be honest.

How it happened: Deadlifted on Tuesday, and I felt my lower back round a little bit on the last rep (was not wearing a belt). However, I felt no immediate pain or discomfort. Then yesterday night, I slightly twisted my back while standing to crack it, like I always do, and I felt a little discomfort, but still, nothing serious. I'm assuming whatever I aggravated on the deadlift, I made worse by twisting my back. Anyways, the rest of the night and today I felt it a little bit, but I tested out lifting. I did some moderately heavy snatches and felt some discomfort but nothing painful, per se. Then, I did one power clean with 60kg, and boom, all hell broke lose. I felt like shooting everyone in the gym because of the pain. I immediately tried a McKenzie extension thing, and that made it worse, so I just quit and went home, and here I am, in pain.

Treatment: Right now I'm just icing 20 mins every 1-2 hours, and taking Ibuprofen.

Thx in advance.

P.S. Next time I'm doing snatch DL or clean DL, I will be wearing a f***ing belt.


Have you had a "slipped disc"/bulging disc before? How do you know this "feels exactly how a slipped disc would feel like"?

If you do not have any radiating symptom down your leg, I doubt you have a significant, symptomatic disc pathology. If it is localized pain at that area (and this is purely an internet "diagnosis"), I'd venture more towards a possible facet irritation, SI Joint irritation, and/or other localized soft tissue attachment issue. Symptoms of a disc injury are almost always accompanied by radiating pain.

You are already on the right track - ice, going to see a healthcare professional, etc. I would also start with pain free ROM at the moment and avoid returning to any lifting that increases symptoms until they subside.


Thanks for the quick post Level. I have not had a slipped disc before, but this pain just kind of has that feeling... I know it sounds weird, it just feels like a disc is literally bulging out the posterior aspect of the spine, lol.

But your post comforts me, and I think, that is what I need right now... thanks.


I have 3 herniated discs in my lower back. When I was 18 years old I was moving some heavy boxes during a move. I had to carry stuff up a flight of stairs and make a tight right turn at the top. Somewhere during the morning it must have happened because by late afternoon I couldn't lift an empty box without sharp, searing, blinding pain shooting up and down my lower back and upper legs. I was diagnosed with 3 herniated discs. As the jelly/donut-like discs compressed downwards, they'd bulge outward and inward and put pressure on the nerve. I visited a number of chiropractors since then (it's been 13 years) and all they've done is some "adjustments" (cracking stuff and shit) and then they'd electrocute the area for half an hour. Didn't do a thing to improve my condition. After being laid out for close to a week, I was able to walk again but any sort of lifting would bring the pain back. I gave up on the chiropractor thing and started my own rehab which consisted of strengthening my abs and lower back muscle doing body weight exercises and stretching (my thinking behind this was by strengthening my core, my body wouldn't rely too heavily on the spinal column thus alleviating the weight on the discs and causing them to bulge less). After seeing pretty good results from the rehab, I experimented to see what would happen if I stopped. Less than a week after I stopped, the pain came back. I went back on my rehab program and added more consistent running. The only times I've had the pain come back is when I stop training in conjunction with being seated for long periods. (A few years ago I spent a week at a search engine seminar where I wasn't able to train in any way and I was seated all day. The pain came back.) More recently I cut way back on my running and phased into weight training. People who know I have the herniated discs see me deadlifting and say, "I can't see how that's not making your back worse". I always have to correct them with a, "No. This is what is making my back better".

All that to say, if you've slipped or herniated a disc, you'll know it. Base of your neck to the back of your knees. Sometimes you'll also experience numbness. You may have pulled something. Possibly a muscle or tendon. As with most of these kinds of injuries, use RICE (Rest, Ice, Compress, Elevate). Hope you feel better soon and I certainly hope it's not a disc.


the trouble with back pain is that many injuries of the lower back present in much the same way. A recent science paper showed that approx. 50% of people surveyed had a herniated or bulging disc, most of which was asymptomatic.

it could be a slipped or bulged disc that is causing the pain... but it could also be a torn muscle, or it could be a locked facet joint(s) from chronic stiffness in the lower back, or a combination of several of these.

At a guess (and note I not a chiro/physio) it sounds to me like you hurt some musculature in your lower back and the cramping and stiffness perhaps locking a few facet joints thereby limiting any kind of extension or twisting.

My hope is you know a good chiro!!! I would ask for referrals from other guys who lift.


thanks for the replies guys... my hunch is, as bad as the pain was yesterday, it is not anything too serious. I slept fine and didn't wake up with any pain, and haven't had any pain at all today. I am still very deliberate in my movements though because I can still feeling something is just 'off' in my lumbar spine. It may very well have to do with the facet joints.

I think my chiro is pretty decent... he does ART, is into lifting, and even trained at Westside.


Saw my chiro, he didn't think it was anything with the disc, he just said it was probably some sort of muscle injury. He did some ART, lower back manipulation, and then some electro-stim + ice, and that's about it.

To be honest I'm not sure what to think. He could be right about it being a muscle injury, but how do I get an actual diagnosis?

edit: http://www.spine-health.com/conditions/lower-back-pain/low-back-pain-muscle-strain

I've been reading that, and it describes my pain pretty good... hopefully it is just a musculo-ligamentous strain.


short of an x-ray and MRI you probably won't get a definitive result and even if you do have something on the x-ray/MRI it doesn't mean it is the cause of the pain. Some people can have back pain even without any obvious signs of injury, the lower back can be a bit of a mystery.

The best way to judge this is if you feel better after the therapy. This may well be a one of event and at this moment it is best to assume that the causative agent was the deadlift.


Short of an x-ray/MRI you are unlikely to get a definitive answer and even if an x-ray/MRI did show anything it doesn't necessarily indicate cause. The lower back can be very strange some can have severe pain but no obvious signs of an injury or causative agent for that pain, others can have serious deformities and no pain.

In your case you have pinpointed the cause as being deadlifts, assume that is true, the only thing you should now worry about is recovery - is it getting better? did the therapy help?

If it flares up again soon, or doesn't start to get significantly better soon (especially after therapy) chase more definitive answers, until then you're probably fine. My only recommendation at this point is to keep loose, you are likely to be tight around the hips and lower back for a bit.


diagnoses are over-rated especially when the recovery recommendations are fairly much the same.


True... I just want that comfort of ruling out anything with the disc. Alas, I'll see how the back feels over the course of the week and play it by ear.


Yeah. Read something once (T nation article) about how very many people turn out to have disk abnormality when given an MRI. Most of the are a-symptomatic (no back pain reported).


It is unclear what a disk abnormality might have to do with your pain.

Even if you got an MRI and you turned out to have a visible disk abnormality...

The pain-resolver is probably soft tissue. Either way.


yeah for sure. I've learned some things from this injury...

  1. Foam roller the erectors every freaking time before lifting.
  2. Wear a god damn Valeo belt on heavy deadlifts.


Put your hands against your sides. Bend sideways and move your hand/arm down your leg as far as you can go. Then do the other side. Very sharp pain when you do this on either side? = possible disc bulge. Your chiro should've had you do this. It squeezes the discs between the vertebrae and lets you know if one is bulging from the pain.

If you're really worried get an MRI scan.


Did that, no pain, which is a good thing. In the next week if I'm not satisfied with the recovery, I'll get an MRI.


Go a bit gentle rolling the lumbar spine. That is how I hurt my back last year. It was a bit stiff a couple days after a set of heavy deadlifts and I thought it wanted me to do the self fascia release thing. Turns out no. What it really wanted was for me to leave it the hell alone and let it recover.

So hard to know sometimes...


To clinically diagnose any type of lower back pain is difficult thats why the majority of back pain in research gets grouped together as what they call "non specific low back pain".

I am a physio and I usually use combination of history and clinical findings to make a provisional diagnosis. Typically injury to the disc, which doesn't always cause radiating symptoms, is aggravated by activities that cause lumbar flexion. Usually sitting isn't tolerated as a lot of sofas, car seats etc place the lumbar spine into flexion.

During an assessment, if i suspect discogenic pain, I will usually firstly get the patient to bend forward to see if this reproduces or increasing symptoms. I will then use a provacation test described by Dr Stuart McGill, where you slouch in a chair and try to pull yourself down into the chair to create compression. I've found these two test probably the best to pick up discogenic pain. However, really they are both still not that reliable.

Either way with whatever the diagnosis is, rehabilitation principles are really almost the same.

  1. Learn how to establish and maitain a neutral lumbar spine
  2. Build endurance!!! and strength in so called "core" musculature
  3. Learn to use glutes to initiate hip extension and move from the hip and thoracic spine
  4. Get good mobility in the hips and thoracic spine


Yes the provocation test, my chiro actually did that test, and I didn't really feel any sharp discomfort. He also did a straight leg test, FABER test, and then checked out if I had lower back pain while putting my legs (separately) in internal rotation, and then hip extension + knee flexion. None solicited any significant back pain, which is good.



So when I felt that 'twinge' in my back, it was when I was just twisting to crack my lower back. When I deadlifted (with poor form) on Tuesday, no pain. When I lifted on Wednesday, I had no pain and was doing back squats with 315 lbs easily. Then, twisted my back to crack it on Wednesday night, and felt that 'twinge', and then had that terrible pain on Thursday when lifting. The pain seems deep, like right on something that connects with the spine, so it is below the erectors. Lastly, I feel it predominantly on the left side, but it is hard to tell.

So I'm guessing the poor form deadlifts may have left the muscles around the lumbar spine susceptible to injury, and that quick twisting movement may have over-stretched one (o more) of these: intercostalis lumborum, multifidus, intertransversarii, and rotatores.

Just speculating... :stuck_out_tongue:


um... maybe don't crack your back????