T Nation

Bulging Disk and Swollen Trap for 5 Years

Hey everyone. About 4-5 years ago I did what is known as a muscle up 3 times in a row without stopping and seemed to come down very hard to the point i compressed a disc, have a bulging disc (c4,c5,c6), and a swollen right trap(when i do deadlifts). After that muscle up i couldn’t move my neck for 2 weeks straight. I obviously messed my self up doing that workout.

I went to 3 doctors, had MRIs, cat scans and even an epidural, it didn’t get better. 2 doctors said no surgery since i am to young (32) and one said maybe to surgery. Im still not sure what to do here. It effects my life sometimes, example, i can sleep on my neck wrong and then it hurts me for over a week and i cant lift anything.

Also please note i can still do some exercises, but mainly machines at the gym, i cant even do push ups or pull ups anymore, to much strain on my neck.

What would you do in my situation when everything has been tried?

See a chiro/therapist that is knowledgable with weight training populations /sees athletes from sports like football boxing etc.

Look around this guys channel and try some of his mobility stuff, can be intense but usually pretty helpful…

You should have been offered a traction device. I have one, it’s a vinyl bag you add water to connected to a head harness via a rope through a pulley. You sit in a chair with this thing attached to the top of a door and it pulls your head upwards placing your neck in traction. It is a normal medical device for this, covered by insurance through a physio or similar.

Never got a traction device. And im still in pain almost everyday. Funny enough when i lift 5-6 days a week im in less pain than if i dont workout at all. I havent worked out in 3 weeks and im in pain in my neck, my shoulders, and my left lat, even from sleeping my neck hurts me. Waiting for it to get better to start lifting again.

First of all, Physiotherapy student here, so not fully qualified, but I do have some education on this topic.

Do you experience any of: tingling, shooting or burning pains, a skin crawling sensation, pins and needles, coldness, or numbness. Do you experience any of those symptoms all the way down your arm?

Are both sides of your body effected?

Would you describe your pain as chronic, or does it come and go?

Does your pain feel close to the skin, or deep inside the body?

Is your skin very sensitive to touch over the painful area?

Does your pain have a defined “zone,” or does its positioning feel somewhat vague?

Are your symptoms the same now as they were immediately following the event 4-5 years ago. If not, how have your symptoms changed?

Are there any things or times of year, apart from bad sleeping positions or deadlifts, push-ups and pull-ups, that exacerbate your pain?

Do you experience any of: tingling, shooting or burning pains, a skin crawling sensation, pins and needles, coldness, or numbness. Do you experience any of those symptoms all the way down your arm? - nope nothing

Are both sides of your body effected? - mainly my left side the most on my body, but neck wise its both sides that hurt depending on the day

Would you describe your pain as chronic, or does it come and go? - comes and goes

Does your pain feel close to the skin, or deep inside the body? - medium i guess inside my neck, and body close to the skin / on the muscle

Is your skin very sensitive to touch over the painful area? - no not at all my neck just hurts

Does your pain have a defined “zone,” or does its positioning feel somewhat vague? - on the left side of my neck its in the middle to lower area

Are your symptoms the same now as they were immediately following the event 4-5 years ago. If not, how have your symptoms changed? - pretty similar i just notice as i get older i have more nagging injuries such as my left lat that hurts if i sleep / twist wrong

Are there any things or times of year, apart from bad sleeping positions or deadlifts, push-ups and pull-ups, that exacerbate your pain? - nope mainly just that

So here’s the thing about chronic pain: it can be incredibly misleading.

Pain, rather than a marker of tissue damage, is actually just a representation of how threatened our brains feel by certain positions, actions and environments.

I believe it was something like 80% of people will have cervical disk pathology by the time they die, and 30-40% of people aged 30-50. Not all of them are in severe pain.

Especially considering that the incident was 4 or more years ago, it’s pretty unlikely that it’s the same injured tissues that are the source of the pain you’re getting now. Instead what often happens is that the body gets used to being in pain. We talk about the SAID principle (specific adaptation to imposed demands) in fitness but, annoying, that also means that our brains can get really at feeling threatened, and thus producing pain.

That’s some good news, as it means you’re not broken. Unfortunately, it does mean that getting around your pain is a bit different than for someone rehabbing an ACL tear. Your structure isn’t necessarily the source of your pain, so addressing or “fixing” it isn’t guaranteed to help.

As such, the best thing to do is to seek out a physiotherapist or chiropractor who’s dealt with chronic pain cases regularly. There are also doctors who specialise in chronic pain management who will also be able to make good referrals to physios etc. Though it sounds strange, often psychologists can also be helpful in chronic pain management.

TL:DR your bulging discs aren’t necessarily the source of your pain. Find a health practitioner (or even a team of practitioners) who specialise in chronic pain management.

Have you read anything, or are you familiar with, Dr. Sarno? The reason I ask is because you mention:

“Pain, rather than a marker of tissue damage, is actually just a representation of how threatened our brains feel by certain positions, actions and environments.”

He, as far as I know, is a big proponent of psychosomatic illnesses.

I’ve always thought his work is interesting stuff.

Haven’t heard of him, but I’ll look him up

What I’m talking about is called the biopsychosocial (BPS) model of pain, which is considered the best representation of pain we have currently.

BPS says that pain is a product of your body/physiology/anatomy, psychology and environment, but it doesn’t say that pain is psychosomatic.

Calling pain psychosomatic is saying that the pain someone experiences is “all in their head.” Whilst that may be true of any sensation - as we wouldn’t feel anything without a brain - it may mislead people to think that the pain they feel is of no use, and occurs because they are crazy. Pain is a vital evolutionary tool, and people who physically lack the ability to perceive pain die earlier. Pain is a real experience - as real as happiness, sadness, anger, fear or lust - associated with real physiological changes in the human body, that can result in real disability. Chronic pain in particular is associated with real changes to neural structures of the nerves, spinal cord and brain, all of which need to be addressed in pain management.

All I’m trying to get across with talking about BPS is that focussing entirely on structural changes to symptomatic sites like herniated/bulging disks, vertebral fractures, labral tears and degenerative cartilage may be missing 2/3 of the picture, and won’t always return satisfying outcomes for the people involved.

I have a herniated C-7. The pain radiated from my back and through my shoulder into my chest and down my arm to the point I originally thought “Heart Attack”. The pain would vary in severity from nagging to temporarily debilitating. Oddly, when I trained it wouldn’t hurt until afterwards. I could squat and deadlift with no pain. I do have a slight weakness on the affected side and a slight muscle imbalance in my chest.

I have had 4 epidural shots since then and they have all had varying degrees of success. The first offered relief for close to 18 months, the second about 3 months, the third about 6 months and the last on has been close to 4 months and counting.

Surgery is the next step and I have researched it extensively. I have talked to people who have had the surgery and I haven’t found one yet who regretted it. I have found people who regretted lumbar surgery but not the c-spine fix.

I’m not ready for the surgery yet because it is still not impacting my life to an unacceptable extent yet. The muscle imbalance and slight loss of strength are annoying but as long as I can work out and enjoy life I’m good.

It looks like surgery may be the way to go. I don’t know why the docs you’ve seen think you being 32 makes it ok to suffer but I’m not a doctor.

@tpoto

Your primary symptom was radicular pain, indicating irritation of the spinal nerves. According to OP, his symptoms are not at all suggestive of radicular pain.

Management for radicular and non-radicular pain differ greatly.

There’s likely a valid reason why OP isn’t being offered surgery including:

  • Likelihood of lack-of-effect
  • Potential dangers