T Nation

C-Spine Disc Herniation and Future Activity

Aloha all!

About three weeks ago, after completing a 1/2 marathon (in 1:43), I had some horrific neck pain. this was followed by some radicular pain down my right arm. I just got an MRI of my neck and found that I have disc herniation at C5-6 and C6-7, with some right sided nerve root compression.

Per a neurosurgeon friend of mine, given my relative paucity of symptoms, the compression will get better, but I will still be left with degenerated discs, and the risk of further injury.

This hurts. I am a physician by profession, and an athlete at heart. I’m a brown belt in BJJ, and at 205 have some pretty good powerlifting numbers under my belt as well (a triple bodyweight squat a few years back, etc).

So I’m strong and flexible - and had worked on both in hopes of avoiding such an outcome. Damn this human frailty! I miss one day of lifting or jiujitsu, and I get twitchy.

So I put it to you all, and to the great coaches on this site; what can I do? Once the immediate inflammation resides, what activity can I resume?

What, in your experience is safe? I ask you all, because not a damned soul I know deals with such injuries in healthy people, so they have no idea what can be done afterwards.

With all my heart I wish to train, but not at the expense of hastening the need for c-spine surgery.


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Another doc with a herniated disc! Welcome to the club. BBB has good advice, and thats saying alot from me because I went through three different rounds of physical therapy with all sorts of theories behind their different methods and all they did was exacerbate my radiculopathies down my legs. (ah, ok, they strengthened my erectors a little, I had an L5-S1, with narrowed disc space too.)

My answer was a percutansous diskectomy. Minimally invasive and terrific outcome. This surgery turned my life around, and allowed me to make this heavy lifting comeback of mine. If you can avoid surgery altogether, fine, my best friend has the same problem as you and he is working diligently with the Vas-D traction machine which helps some, but he has to hit the Vicodins pretty hard some times if he just overdoes it doing anything involving neck hyperextension.                      Doc

Thanks for all the great advice, BBB. That’s exactly what I’m looking for.

So, a few more questions for you.

  1. I’ve long ago given up back squats in favor of front squats, as I can use a lighter weight and still work my legs. Is this an OK variation given my injury, presuming I keep my head position neutral?

  2. Given that trap and levator scap activation pull on the c-spine, how can I possibly gauge what “going easy” means? That is, I’m now lifting for jiu-jitsu specific strength -

so I do a lot of front squats (never very heavy), farmer’s walks etc to both stregthen my thoracic spine and grip, both of which involve trapezius activation. Should I dump these in favor of less activating exercises?

  1. Any advice on how to strengthen my neck, without excessive extension/flexion?

  2. Given #2 above, if these aren’t great exercises, what is left to strengthen thoracic spine/shoulder girdle/abdominals/lower back? I guess that can be done with a lot of rowing, ab-rollering and extensions, but its just so much less…manly… Am I going to have to drop my reservations and just play it safe, or do I have some room?

I greatly appreciate your help and advice. Thank you all so much for helping out a wounded comrade.

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I had C5-6-7 fusion in Jun 2001 at age 34. I haven’t allowed it to limit me at all. I was pretty close to 100% after 1 year.

Now 42, I am stronger in all lifts than before. And I have recently started playing rugby.


Genius stuff.
Thanks for your help, and I will start making appropriate changes.