T Nation

Bulging discs


Hey all.

Suffering from three bulging discs, located at L4/L5, L5-S1, and L1/L2.

Haven't done any real lifting since mid February of this year. I went back in here and there, and while I was still able to lift heavy the compressive effects of the squats caused enough pain and inflexibility the next day to keep me out. The pain was never excruciating and I always assumed it was a muscle tear or something, which prevented me from seeing a doctor. Finally towards the ends of May I folded and went to see a doctor. He told to me to take an x ray and everything came back normal. Great I thought. Little did I know that x rays don't show disc injuries.

Went back to lifting heavy for a little bit and I was happy that I hadn't lost any strength at all. But the inflexibility and chronic back pain came back with a vengeance, so my doctor refered me to an orthopedist. MRI confirmed three bulging discs, currently under the care of an ortho who has me doing some bullshit physical therapy which doesn't even help.

Anyway, my main question is in regards to the reverse hyper by Louie Simmons. Louie claims he used it to completely recover from a ruptured disc twice.

These are very rare where I live, so I'm forced to them on a smith machine, which even with no weight hurts my hips. The traction they provide for the lower back certainly makes it good as new. The pain is completely gone and I'm read to dead lift 315# for reps. This feeling lasts for an hour or two. Then the inflexibility returns and minor pain returns.

Anyway my question is whether or not it's possible to completely recover from a disc injury in the manner Louie claims he did. I'm not calling him a liar and have nothing but respect for him and his accomplishment, but I also recognize he has a product to sell. While I have yet to consistently perform proper reverse HEs with heavy weight, I just have a feeling I'll never completely recover. I don't see too many stories of guys on the internet resuming heavy lifting after getting a disc injury, and if I do it's guys who are genetic freaks who have always had them but never experienced any pain from them. The fact that I read an article that says that disc injuries have a large genetic component to them makes me even sadder (this why you'll always see somebody in a youtube video lifting 500 pounds with horrid form for reps and never getting injured).

I'd like to hear some advice and hopefully some success stories. At this point I'm thinking of giving up on strength training altogether. I'm happy I only have a bulging disc want to keep it that way, and don't want to see it develop into a full blown herniation or worse. By that same token I'm a bit depressed that my dreams of squatting 405# will seemingly never be accomplished.


Awww, you poor thing! You sound like me! I can relate and share your frustrations.

I believe I herniated my L5S1 in Dec 2008... maxing out on back sq before winter break (i ran track in college). I remember by low back hurting like a bitch that day but stupidly went up in weight til I failed. Laying flat on the hard tile floor with my knees bent so my low back was pressed to the ground. Anywho, came back in Jan and kept training for indoor but soon started to develop a sharp pain in my left butt cheek and siatica down my leg. Of course pain must come from where you feel it... WRONG... eventually about a month later after going in and out of compitition I had a MRI and sure enough I had a herniated disc. Now, was that max squat day the first/only cause... no prob not. I had been a year round hurdler/sprinter/jumper for 5+ years now. And aparently pounding and torque are bad for your back (my bad). Needless to say I squated 1 too many times, or went over 1 too many hurdles.
So 2+ years later I am still struggling. My senior year of college was a joke due to injuries and depression. And this post college year hasent been much better. I have seen maybe 5 different docs/pt/athletic trainers etc... and talked to numerous other ppl who have / are suffering what I am. I have tried rehab / stretching... not as much / as religiously as I should... but even when I go a month or two 'being religious' I start to get back into training how I want and a week or so later the pain returns.
Now, I dont want to take the 'easy' way out and just go under the knife... but I plan on getting an MRI again this fall and might consider it. I miss training how I used to. My college career was already screwed up bc of injuries I want to have some sort of career before I die!

Anywho, I have heard both sides of the story... you can recover with proper rehab / stretching. And I also have heard that if the 'jelly is on the nerve you need the knife' (more or less a disc is a jelly donut and if its squished and the jelly is released and on that nerve... you need surgery). So it depends on the person, it depends on the disc, it depends on the serverity.

But, I def understand where your coming from and your frustration with the 'stupid ass' rehab exercises that dont seem to do jack. etc.

Anywho, I hope my story helped. Good luck!


Is the pain still extremely bad for you? I have two friends who herniated their discs about three years back, they both said the pain has pretty much subsided, neither of them ever went back to lifting heavy though.

Have you tried reverse hypers at all?


Depending on the severity, BDs are pretty easily treated. Traction therapy, deep tissue massage, and a stretching/conditioning program will usually resolve and eliminate most if not all of the symptoms. As the previous poster mentioned, as long as the disc has not ruptured or extruded, then relieving the pressure, hydrating, and dealing with the myofascial trigger points (which are usually the primary symptom producer) will provide long term relief. Along with resolving any postural deviations both at rest and during training that caused the issue in the first place, you should be able to get back to lifting as usual.


From what i've seen. Most people with severe back problems like this, never get back to 100%. I'm in the same boat as you and its a very sad situation for sure. I believe that it is a genetic thing as you said. My back has been hurt since Last Feb, its still the same. Severe pain and sciatica down both legs. Did PT for awhile, didnt help. For most people i think its pretty much the nail in the coffin for heavy lifting and hard physical activity.


All of you shut up please!!! I do not like the tone on this post one bit!

Now let me say I am sorry, as I am about to ramble (I am hammered off coffee and high on getting my back sorted out!). So sorry for any confusion in my writing.

I herniated a disc in my lumbar (most likely L5-S1) 4 weeks ago playing Rugby, and after a week of pretty intense pain/immobility I have made big strides in recovery. I am still experiencing sciatica down one leg and I have by no means been able to get back to training (running, lifting heavy, crossfit metcons), but I have no doubt that this obstacle can be overcome! Do I think I will get back to DLing 200kgs? YES! Do I think I will be able to score close to level 14 on the beep test? YES! Do I plan on doing these things next week? Sadly no!

My plan is to let some muscle/mass waste away from my body while simultaneously rebuilding my body from the inside out. I need to have a stronger core, and no this does not mean a stronger rectus abdominis. I am currently working on glute strength, hip mobility, trasnverse stability, among other things. MY workouts are all bodyweight at the moment, but I have been seeing good progress. My strength/stability/mobility/flexibility are all increasing and I have no doubt that by the end of the year I will be running hard and lifting heavy (maybe not heavy bilateral DLs and squats, but def heavy bench presses and unilateral leg exercises!).

The information is out there and I have been reading as much as I can. We can also help eachother as much as possible, through positive talk and by trading helpful information. The knife may help some, but may be unnecessary for others.

I have just started to include spinal decompressions from a dip bar and a pulup bar. These actually feel very strange at first, but overall make me feel better.

I have been dealing with back pain for about 8 years and I am finally to the point where I am unwilling to live my life with any back pain at all! Are you guys with me or what?

Two more things;
1. Has anyone tried using steroids in connection with back problems? Perhaps Louie has been able to recover due to his insane amount of anabolics in his system? I am VERY serious about doing a cycle come Dec.
2. I have 3 other posts. Please comment on those if you can. The more info we share the stronger we become!

Goodluck people and please keep in touch.



Have you ever tried doing any reverse hypers? Or traction in general?

Look into reverse hypers and traction tables.


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I've like you post BBB, cause you tell it like it is and always have something knowledgeable to say.

I know people in the same situation as me who still continue to fight in MMA and different grappling competitions. How do you feel physical activities such as this effect the condition as opposed to maximal heavy lifting?


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Like you said, I am just trying to become a master of my condition. I am trying to read read read. IT aslo helps a lot to hear other people's experiences and opinions. Why do you say dick? I just dont believe that people have to resign themselves to any condition, regardless of what it is. And I am trying to train my body MAXIMALLY. MAx strength, max speed, max endurance.

Can you elaborate on your back condition and how it has gone for you? Please.

Cheers brother...


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Ha well as you can probably relate to, having a back condition is so damn frustrating and it hurts to hear things like 'most people never fully recover' and such. My appologizes if I was being a bit silly. I was also a little too hopped up on coffee.

I have a question for you badboy;
The sensations I was having down my RIGHT leg have somewhat localized on the left side of my spine. This is the spot where any recurring back pain/problems have been in the past. I am thinking that I had/have a muscle spasm on my right side that is a result of a herniation on my left side, thus causing sciatica on my right side. What do you make of this? That sounds plausible to me, I am just not sure if this is commonplace or not? I plan on getting some soft tissue work done this week and I am hoping that will help alleviate more of the sciatica symptoms I have. My little toes are constantly a touch numb.

If you get a chance let me know what ya think.


I have done reverse hypers but they tend to bother me more then help.

Pain comes and goes. But, as of late I've been living a pretty seditary lifestyle sadly and depressing enough. But, that does keep my back from hurting more or less.


Describe a littler more about this pain...what causes it's onset, relief, character etc.


The pain has increased a little bit (mainly) on the left side of my spine, in the lumbar region. When I palpate it hard enough, it almost feels like there is some crepitus right on the spine (I get that feeling/sound of 'stuff' moving/ginding). IT is most definiteyl more on the left than the right, but I have had sciatica symptoms only on my right leg.

A few years back a Chiro said that I had a slightly bulged disc on my left side (the exact spot that I feel now and to some degree always feel). I had a light prehab workout I would do once or twice a week that included supermans, planks, hip raises/extensions/flexes (lat and frontal) and hip thrusts. If for some reason I missed this for a week, I would start to feel a 'relapse' of my back condition.

The reason I say that I feel it has localized is due to the increase of pain and the decrease (over the last 4 weeks) of siactica symptoms in my right leg. If I forcefully stretch my hamstring I get sharp but bearable pain directly behind my knee and more numbness in my feet.

I tried to run in barefeet on grass about 1 week ago and after only 200meters my whole right leg was numb. The next few days it felt like I strained my soleus and some numbness persisted. Also I start to feel more numbness come on after a few sets of bulgarian squats (30 reps +/-) and when this happens I stop my workout abruptly.

Any long distance walking also causes symptoms to flare up. So my thinking is that any compressive force causes more pressure on the nerve (by way of disc or muscle I am unsure of) and that in turn leads to more sciatica symptoms. What do you think?

What causes relief? Hmm the pain in my back feels better if extended/hyperextended/flexed or decompressed (on a dip bar/pull up bar/armrests of a chair/etc). Lying on my back always feels good as well (flexion).

I hope I answered your question and thanks for the help. Much appreciated!