I was recently diagnosed with degenerative disc disease in both the L5/S1 disc and the L4/L5 disc. According to the doctor I don’t have a herniated disc, but they are both bulging to the sides and the back. I am already seeing a PT and she’s got me doing mobility and flexibility work, and added more ab work to my routine because of weak lower abs.
I’m trying to understand two things: 1) the risk involved in lifting and 2) if I should place limits on the weights I lift (or drop certain exercises altogether).
So I’m 36 years old about 6’ tall and I weight about 98 kg (about 79 kg fat free mass). The cause of the DDD is not lifting - seven years ago my wife sat on my back while I was reading in bed on my belly. In the year after that I had some significant back pain, which at some point got better.
Now I normally have no pain at all, my back just sometimes feels stiff, like I need to crack it. I generally have no pain or discomfort at all while lifting, however I do feel a bit of a twinge when doing speed work with dead lifts/squats/power cleans.
According to the PT my form is quite good, but due to the weak lower abs my hips are slightly in the wrong position sometimes (my butt sticks out a bit too much, so my back is slightly extended).
About two months ago I started doing Wendler’s 5/3/1 with the BBB assistance work. So this (with the rep scheme as recommended by the program):
Low bar squat / Abs
Bench / BB bent over row
Conventional dead lift /Abs
Overhead press / Chins
After about a month of this I started feeling a lot of pressure (like I had to crack my back) in my lower back, so I switched from low bar squat to high bar squat, from conventional dead lift to sumo dead lift and from BB bent over row to Kroc rows. Alone this change lead to by back feeling normal again. Since then I’ve also switched away from BBB to a version of the triumvirate to further reduce stress on the lower back and address some weak points and I feel great. My 5/3/1 routing now looks like this:
High bar squat / crunches / Bulgarian split squat / hip thrusts
Bench press / Kroc rows / sulpinated grip face pulls
Sumo dead lift / wipers / GHR / oblique work
Over head press / chins / dips
My weights are not super high, but climbing steadily with the 5/3/1 program. Right now my 1RMs are about S 150 kg / BP 130 kg / DL 170 kg / OHP 75 kg. So my questions are:
am I putting myself at significantly increased risk of a herniated disc by doing squats or dead lifts? If yes, can you quantify this somehow?
should place limits on the weights I lift - in particular with respect to squats and dead lifts? My plan was to work up to squating around 170 - 180 kg and dead lift around 200 - 210 kg and then stop increasing weight and go for reps.
The doc I saw just gave me the typical “don’t lift heavy things” line. The PT made a very good impression and has said to continue with this program, but stop once the weights get very high. If I were to just “listen to my body” I’d say keep lifting and keep increasing weight… I feel great. I’m going to see another doc (sports medicine/orthopedist), who apparently has experience with weight lifters, to get a second opinion.
Thanks in advance, I’d really appreciate any tips!