T Nation

Double Spinal Op. Can I Still Lift?

Hi Guys/Gals

I have a bit of a story to tell, so sit down, get a cup of tea/coffee and get comfy.

In 2014 i collapsed at home and after 7 months of tests and hospital visits, i was diagnosed with a herniated L4 disc. Due to the length of time it had taken for the diagnosis, i was told surgery was the best option to fix it.

Fast forward to Dec 23 2014 and the op was completed and i was pain free, i was sent home and felt like i had been given a new lease on life. I swore to myself that i would never let that happen to me again.

The reason, i felt, for the herniation, was mainly because i always been a lazy, fat guy. at the time of my first herniation, i weighed in at 22 stone 10 lbs (300+lbs) and had always been sedentary. I work in a desk based job and never had any compunction to work out.

Anyway, after the op, as already mentioned, i wasn’t going to let it happen again.

During my recovery i signed up at a gym at the end of January and began walking, i had always liked the idea of lifting but had never, as said, never gone and done it.

As my fitness and recovery moved forward, i was introduced to a few basic pilates movements to help stabilise my core, this was through an NHS physio and i did feel my core got stronger over the month i did this.

Finally my recovery under the NHS came to its “end” and i was discharged from their and the physio’s care, my final meeting with him, i spent time discussing with him lifting, mainly the big three.

He said i’d be fine as long as i took my time to study form, the movements, ensure i get good RoM and such, so the next month was literally spent researching programs, the big three, supplments and a few mobility things.

I finally started lifting in March of 2015, my first lifts were as poor as you could describe, bench, squat and deadlift all with just the bar.

Over the next six months i set PB’s often enough that my final lift PBs were as follows

Squat 140kg
Deadlift 130kg
Bench 80kg

I was doing supplementary lifts as well to help things like my shoulders and back keep strong and not fatigue too much with the compounds.

So come september 5th 2015 and my back goes again, not from lifting, but at home doing some DIY. Up until that point i felt strong and i felt the BEST i’;ve ever felt in my life, i was living a fuller and better life, my outlook had totally changed and i finally felt like i was doing something good.

I am subsequently MRI’d and the diagnosis is a massive herniation of my L4 disc, the same one perviously operated on. I was able to see a Doctor, who funnily enough pointed me to this website (Dr John Power, BUPA, Leeds) and he told me, after examining some of my form check videos, that i hadn’t done this lifting, and that i had done exactly the right thing coming from surgery.

So, in the end the pain got worser, till one point the week before christmas, my back made me collapse again, after being rushed to hospital and having lost sensation in my lower left leg, arsehole, scrotum and bladder, and ahving a second MRI confirming ANOTHER massive herniation (thats 2 from the same disc for anyone keeping count) i was rushed to leeds general infirmary, and into a 6 hour operation to fix the issue.

There wre some complications during the surgery but nothing i am having to live with right now.

So basically, i know im asking a lot here from you guys, and i will be posting this somewhere in one of the coaches forums as well, but do you guys think ill ever lift again? do you think it will be safe for me to do so?

I hate to say i was addicted to lifting, but my entire outlook on life, and i felt me as a person were getting better, i was eating better, everything seemed easier, i was putting on good muscle, i felt STRONG too. Add to that, myself and my wife found out we finally were able to get pregnant after a couple of years of trying too… everything seemed to be coming up Steve…

Anyway, if you stuck around long enough to cope with my typos and you got this far, thanks for reading, i hope that you arent too fatigued from my epic post =-)


I won’t give you any advice on what you should do, because that’s certainly outside my scope. I’ll just give my experience.

I have broken my lower back and herniated a couple discs. I had a debrisdement and discectomy on L4-L5 and L5-S1 and had a recurrence (also right around the time I was back to feeling great) and reoperation about a year later at L4-L5. Recurrence is actually relatively common post-discectomy, somewhere around 15%. Doesn’t necessarily mean you were doing anything wrong.

I still lift. I high bar squat and deadlift with the trap bar. I have also deadlifted with a modified sumo stance with some success. I don’t work to my 1RM limits and I stop well short of form failure. I also did not go back to these lifts for quite a while following my second surgery. Some data indicates recurrence risk is high up to 18 months post-op, so I used that as my reference point. A good rule of thumb is to do about 75% of what I think I could do on a given day - then I see how I feel the next day and use that to adjust (one will always feel worse the next day than while they’re performing the activity. This makes pain an unreliable guide, for me, with an injury - once it hurts, the damage is done).

All that said - for me (again, I am not telling you what to do) - no lift is worth another trip to the OR table. Third time is the charm for a fusion. I no longer have a career need to do anything physically, and I don’t have a professional sport-specific reason to do anything. That said, I’m also of the mind that if I’m so scared to hurt my body I don’t use it, that’s not much of a trade. So, I lift because I want to, but I throw out my old records and I use common sense and stay safe. It may be as simple as staying 20 lbs short of what I know I could do, or not doing another rep. Also, I am focused on my “whole day” - posture, hinge, activities, sitting (even down to not putting a wallet in my back pocket while I sit in the car), etc.

Lift light, lift often.

Hitting personal bests should be a side effect of your progress to become healthier.

This. And let me add a bit ab out exercise selection…

The big three, while obviously very good lifts, are really designed for powerlifters. There are some very good options that are safer, and I would say about as effective as the big three at building strength and size. I much prefer high bar squats over standard low bars. Zerchers are another great option and have little spinal loading (yet they work the back tremendously - try it and you will see). I also much prefer sumo deadlifts over conventional. I imagine trap bar deadlifts are good too, but I’ve never tried them. Many athletes use those to avoid injury.

In the end, if you can’t do the big, standard, lower body lifts (which tend to involve the spine a fair bit), you may simply consider focusing on upper body compound lifts, plus perhaps a lower body lift where it is easy to keep the spine straight (e.g. front step-ups and side step-ups…done right, and without cheating with the non-working leg, these can really tax your legs). Lunges and Bulgarian split squats as well I suppose.

Hi Guys

I know its been some time since my initial post, however i wanted to give the post some time to mature and get some replies, although i expected more, i didnt expect any of the quality that you guys gave.

You guys indeed gave me a lot to think about, however i have an update.

This past weekend, i was able to see the surgeons who completed my surgery in December, after reports from my urologist and the tale of how my recovery has gone, lack of any follow up symptoms or pain, they have given me a clean bill of health to go exercising, including lifting, i specifically asked about the big three, and the weights i was working at, and they confirmed that is fine.

One of the surgeons said he’d be happy to see me lift an elephant heh.

Anyway, i wont be getting back to it straight away, as i have my first child due in a few weeks, and as such ill be spending a few weeks at home with the family, but once life starts straightening out and we get into a routine with our new baby, i will then be heading back to the gym and starting over.

No, i wont be going straight back trying to lift 100kg, i am going to be modest and start with just the bar. Unfortuinately the gym i go/went to doesnt have a trap bar so i won’;t be able to modify my deadlifts, however i was already doing sumo pulls anyway and was very happy with my form. I will also be considering rack pulls for the first year back i think.

Anyway, overall, very happy that i can get back to it, but i wont be rushing myself to get back to it, nice and steady i think, gives me plenty of time to read supple leopard, get my diet in shape and get moving forward with my life.

Again, thanks for posting.