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Herniated Disk - How Long to Heal?

I believe I herniated my disk. It’s very similar to the symptoms I’ve had a few times in the last few year. Massive acute pain at the base of my spine. However, the pain does not run down my legs. 10 years ago, from an MRI showed a bulging disc so it’s probably the culprit. Pain exists when I do flexion (bent over at 45 degree angle) and I’m walking gingerly.

I can’t lay in bed since the pain is so great when I try to get up so I’m sleeping in a recliner at night. It’s excruiating pain when I try to get up. Unreal.

I’m doing PT and getting ART from a local chiropractor. It happened a few days ago but wonder how long it will take to heal. It’s happened in the past but not to this level. When can I start lifting again? Was going to just use machines but even then I’m apprehensive.

Hi ghost,

I, too, have a herniated disc (confirmed by MRI) and have been undergoing a series of epidural procedures to cure the problem. My pain was in my lower back and then radiating down into my leg. Excruciating is an understatement. I understand how you feel and what you’re going through, and I’m very sorry for your pain. Everybody is different, of course, but I’m playing it safe rather than sorry. Mine happened three and a half weeks ago. My neurosurgeon told me that I can start exercising if I feel up to it and if the pain has decreased sufficiently to allow exercise (I specifically told him that I lift weights), but while the epidurals are working and are increasingly effective, I’m still in the middle of the course of treatments and I don’t want to rush things. I still have some pain and the nerve impingement caused by the herniated disc in my spinal cord is making it difficult to control my leg muscles. When I was in my 20s I’d probably have – no, I’d certainly have – pushed the envelope and started back up before the course of the shots were completed, but now, in my 40s, I’m taking the long view and the slow and steady approach. At first I was pretty bummed out about not being able to exercise, but now I figure that if I am patient and wait until the time is right, I’ll have a better chance at success and a speedier return to form without re-injuring myself. It’s difficult, I know. But I figure this way I’ll have no regrets and won’t needlessly set myself even further behind (plus I never want to experience this kind of pain again).

I hope you’re able to get your issue resolved as quickly as possible. I totally feel for you, and I’m wishing you the very best.

I was just starting to prep my bodybuilding contest at the end of Sept when this injury happened. I’ve been waiting to compete again for 12 years. Unreal.

The key question is how long it will take to heal. If I push it, I risk worsening the disc issue. If I wait 4 weeks, then I’m 13 weeks out from the contest and can I pull it together in that time period. Frustrating!

How long to heal?..to better get an idea how long THAT piece of string is I suggest you have an MRI which will verify the specific location of your injury, the status of your injury, the direction & size of the impingment onto the nerve

If you do actually have a “herniated/prolapsed” disk (a most serious disk injury), as apposed to a mere “bulging disk” or a slightly more serious “broad disk protrusion”(which is what I have at L4/L5) I strongly recommend that you put the comp prep training right out of your head for a while. For a herniated disk the likely prognosis is surgery, for a bulging disk multiple sessions (say 12 or so) with a PT &/or CP may see you right in 6 to 9 weeks. BEWARE, the PT & CP will likely beat you sensless if you attempt to continue with any routines that put any cyclic compressive/tortional loading on the injury.

What-ever the status of your back injury, you need to seriously think of your future health & mobility & long term goals, dont get lost in the short-sightedness/mind set of a short term goal, that in the whole scheme of things may be pretty meaningless. You could end up seriously injured with not much more than tales of woe of how you USED to train.

Given then that you’re anything like me and will completely ignor that last paragraph. I’ll point out that even with a less serious bulging disk, I doubt you will be in any state to actually pose correctly & show your best. Worse still, if your physique is good & you have multiple call-outs, you could end up being the weeping spectacle on U-Tube

[quote]oros40plus wrote:
How long to heal?..to better get an idea how long THAT piece of string is I suggest you have an MRI which will verify the specific location of your injury, the status of your injury, the direction & size of the impingment onto the nerve

If you do actually have a “herniated/prolapsed” disk (a most serious disk injury), as apposed to a mere “bulging disk” or a slightly more serious “broad disk protrusion”(which is what I have at L4/L5) I strongly recommend that you put the comp prep training right out of your head for a while. For a herniated disk the likely prognosis is surgery, for a bulging disk multiple sessions (say 12 or so) with a PT &/or CP may see you right in 6 to 9 weeks. BEWARE, the PT & CP will likely beat you sensless if you attempt to continue with any routines that put any cyclic compressive/tortional loading on the injury.

What-ever the status of your back injury, you need to seriously think of your future health & mobility & long term goals, dont get lost in the short-sightedness/mind set of a short term goal, that in the whole scheme of things may be pretty meaningless. You could end up seriously injured with not much more than tales of woe of how you USED to train.

Given then that you’re anything like me and will completely ignor that last paragraph. I’ll point out that even with a less serious bulging disk, I doubt you will be in any state to actually pose correctly & show your best. Worse still, if your physique is good & you have multiple call-outs, you could end up being the weeping spectacle on U-Tube [/quote]

Good post. I’m not ignoring the last paragraph. It’s my will to compete and my waiting to do so for the last 12 years that makes me think I can wait for a few weeks (or even train lightly now). I’m my own worst enemy in that regard - like many of us on this site.

get another MRI, if the disc has gone from buldging to herniated, then you may need surgery, or more specific pt. It also could have gone to degenerative, in which case the discs are flattened from loss of fluid and the pain is most likely due to it spilling over onto the sides, affecting the nerves in the area.

If i was you, i would get the MRI, but until then take 4x200mg ibuprofuen 3-4 times a day, ice then heat as often as possible. IF you can, work on stretching the hips hams and rolling out your glutes. For hams use a rope to stretch them while lying down as to avoid bending. Also look into the mackensie method or however you spell it. Core work, once you can, need to start buffering your discs with stability, anti rotation and flexation core work will be perfect for you.

As others have said, THINK LONG TERM DUDE!!! no need to push it now, even if you will never compete again trust me, walking in the future is better than competing and becoming more injured permanently. BE SMART.

Walk or elliptical as much as possible, i really like backwards on it, anything with no impact that will get the blood flowing is awesome.

I really like hypers, but alot of people dont, so use discresion here.

Once u get the disc issue sorted and youre onto rehab, things like split squats and lunges will be ur lover. Get to love them.

Good luck, post updates.

Please go get a new MRI and then see an orthopedist and neurosurgeon before you start with PT or CP. I’m not a doctor, so I can only share with you my experience. I’ve seen an ortho and two neuros. Surgery is not necessarily preordained. According to the docs, it’s not a one-size-fits-all situation. What they said is that, for some people, in some cases, surgery may be the best (or only) approach. But for other people, in different circumstances, they said, it may not be. There may be other options. In my case, based on my MRI, they recommended trying epidurals before considering surgery. Besides the (temporary) pain relief provided by the nerve blocker in the epidural, the main purpose is to inject a steroid into the disc. The steroid is an anti-inflammatory and it works over the course of several days. Most people seem to need about three epidurals, each usually administered about a week apart. Some, however, can get better with two, and some need four (or even five). The efficacy of the epidurals may last for weeks, or months, or years. There’s no way to tell. You may need to get them again in the future. Or you may not. But that’s far less invasive than surgery. And if the epidurals ultimately prove ineffective, then surgery may need to be considered as a possible alternate treatment option. But you’re not yet at that point. First you need the MRI and the expert opinion of some doctors.

I’m happy to report that I think the epidurals are working for me. It’s slow going, but they’re working. It’s been 3.5 weeks since the injury occurred, and I’m already doing world’s better. I went from literally not being able to get up off the floor to finally feeling better and believing there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. It’s tough to have patience – especially if you have a competition coming up. Believe me, I know how difficult it is to be patient. Not to keep beating a dead horse (ok, maybe just a little bit), but you need to think beyond the immediate future and take a longer view. Take it slow. Get an MRI, and then see some medical specialists. Listen to what they have to say and then follow their advice to the letter. PT and CP may well be recommended, but you don’t want to put the cart before the horse. You don’t want to do something that could worsen the severity of the injury. Disc issues are serious. There will be other competitions in the future. Don’t do something now that could possibly jeopardize your ability to do what you love long term.

Continued best wishes to you for a speedy and full recovery. Please let me know if there’s anything I can do to help. And please keep us updated on your progress.

[quote]anomie_nomad wrote:
Please go get a new MRI and then see an orthopedist and neurosurgeon before you start with PT or CP. I’m not a doctor, so I can only share with you my experience. I’ve seen an ortho and two neuros. Surgery is not necessarily preordained. According to the docs, it’s not a one-size-fits-all situation. What they said is that, for some people, in some cases, surgery may be the best (or only) approach. But for other people, in different circumstances, they said, it may not be. There may be other options. In my case, based on my MRI, they recommended trying epidurals before considering surgery. Besides the (temporary) pain relief provided by the nerve blocker in the epidural, the main purpose is to inject a steroid into the disc. The steroid is an anti-inflammatory and it works over the course of several days. Most people seem to need at about three epidurals, each usually administered about a week apart. Some, however, can get better with two, and some need four (or even five). The efficacy of the epidurals may last for weeks, or months, or years. There’s no way to tell. You may need to get them again in the future. Or you may not. But that’s far less invasive than surgery. And if the epidurals ultimately prove ineffective, then surgery may need to be considered as a possible alternate treatment option. But you’re not yet at that point. First you need the MRI and the expert opinion of some doctors.

I’m happy to report that I think the epidurals are working for me. It’s slow going, but they’re working. It’s been 3.5 weeks since the injury occurred, and I’m already doing world’s better. I went from literally not being able to get up off the floor to finally feeling better and believing there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. It’s tough to have patience – especially if you have a competition coming up. Believe me, I know how difficult it is to be patient. Not to keep beating a dead horse (ok, maybe just a little bit), but you need to think beyond the immediate future and take a longer view. Take it slow. Get an MRI, and then see some medical specialists. Listen to what they have to say and then follow their advice to the letter. PT and CP may well be recommended, but you don’t want to put the cart before the horse. You don’t want to do something that could worsen the severity of the injury. Disc issues are serious. There will be other competitions in the future. Don’t do something now that could possibly jeopardize your ability to do what you love long term.

Continued best wishes to you for a speedy and full recovery. Please let me know if there’s anything I can do to help. And please keep us updated on your progress.[/quote]

Thank you- I appreciate the advice and well wishes. I am know thinking long-term, which is obviously for the best