T Nation

T-Members and Serious Back Injuries


After struggling with a lower back injury I suffered while deadlifting a few months back, I'm curious to hear what other members have had to go through in this regard. Please share,

a)What lift were you performing when you hurt your back?

b)How serious was the injury? (e.g. did it leave you bedridden? if so, for how long?)

c)How did it affect your training? Were you able to "work around" the injury?

d)What course of treatment did you follow? How effective was it?

Given what a serious setback back injuries are to our sport, it will be interesting to see what others have learned when confronted by an injured back. So, let's hear it!


The worst was an SI joint sprain I suffered about thirteen years ago deadlifting. I was doing some Bulgarianization type program and on the first rep of my second set of ten reps I felt something pop in my left lower back, but felt it very deep in my back. Like an idiot I finished the workout and then went to a chiro. That night I had a labor law final where I had to stand up several times during the exam.

SI joint injuries are easier standing up than down. Walking to the parking garage to get in car after the exam was a treat. It took me forty five minutes to 'walk' two blocks that night. A lot of chiro work, ultrasound, and some adjustments, and I was OK, relatively speaking after a few weeks. Back injuries suck. It acts up now and again, but good posture is SO critical!



Too many questions! Lets see what I can tell here, first time was about 7 years ago, chipping ice on my driveway for 3 hours, fucked it up pretty good. Did it again doing SLDL a few months later, but this was my pre-T-Nation days, and my form was for shit. Both times, could barely walk for a week or so, cramped up sitting. A few years after that, I did it doing conventional DL, I was in a hurry and didn't warm up properly. The last time was thankfully over 2 years ago.

I had blown out my ankle kickboxing, and I had been in a walking boot for a month. The boot was about 2 inches taller than my regular shoe, and really screwed up my alignment. My first lower body workout after getting the boot off (on vacation no less), I head it go "pop" during a set of Smith Machine split squats. I basically had to have my family carry me the rest of the trip, I did nothing but lay by the pool and alternate ice with hot tub. It took several weeks before I could walk right, and months before I could train lower body with any intensity. Since that one I have gotten serious about prevention.

What I do now (which has been working, setting PRs, no injuries):
1. Hip stretching/mobility at every gym session
2. Foam rolling the glutes and piriformis every day
3. Hanging for decompression in between heavy sets
4. More front and overhead squats for core strength
5. More core work in general
6. Backing off when it starts feeling bad (I can kind of tell when its not 100%, and I WILL end a workout if I need to)

Hope this helps, good luck on your recovery.


I hurt my back in January deadlifting. First set I pickup the weight and was standing there for a second getting ready to blast out some fast reps and I kind of jerked as I started to decend and had a shooting pain in my right lower back. Dropped the weight and fell to the ground. Spent 3 whole days in bed. Almost went to the emergency room when I couldn't get back in bed after getting up to pee the first night. I noticed my left leg was numb once the pain subsided a little bit. I'm still injured but it is getting better. I started doing pullups and dips 7 days after it happened (as soon as I could almost walk again).

Man was my wife not happy about that. I couldn't walk up stairs but I really could do dips without pain. I never did go see a doctor. My DL sucks now compared to what it was 6 months ago but I'm getting there. I started with light, high, rack pulls and gradually lowered the pins (over the course of a couple of months) until I felt comfortable trying to pull from the floor again. I'd say I'm about 60lbs from my previous max DL.


I hurt my back being sloppy doing snatches one day. Fortunately as an athletic trainer I had the luxury of taking parts A-C of the McKenzie spine courses. It was a herniated disc, I was stuck in flexion, a little lateral shift and pain going down my left leg. I was all better and back to training within a month. Lots of prone extensions (press-ups) and watched my posture and movement.


I hurt my back being sloppy doing snatches one day. Fortunately as an athletic trainer I had the luxury of taking parts A-C of the McKenzie spine courses. It was a herniated disc, I was stuck in flexion, a little lateral shift and pain going down my left leg. I was all better and back to training within a month. Lots of prone extensions (press-ups) and watched my posture and movement.


mhmm. Been there, done that.


HAH! at sloppy snatches.

Iâ??ve had a lot of back/hip problems growing up due to scoliosis.

Actually, I got into lifting to help correct the problem. Strong spinal erectors can actually straighten out your spine or at least prevent it from getting worse.

The worst Iâ??ve done in the gym is a couple of strains. Always happens to me on bench while arching. I will wear a belt now on really heavy sets.

I no longer have back or hip pain.


I've hurt my back very badly twice. Once Senior year in High School (1990), and once my Sophmore year in College (1992). Both times were during 1 rep max testing on Squat, and both times with 500lbs. Looking back on it, I was no where near a 500lb Squatter, but in those days, the coaches didn't care how deep you went, it was just a matter of how much weight you had on your back when you dipped your knees.

The first time I came up about half way (from my quarter Squat), and stalled. My spotter was busy watching girls or something and never even moved in for the spot. I was outside the racks and ended up dumping the weight over my head as I folded in half. The second time I was in the rack with a spotter, and got a good spot, but the damage had already been done by the time we re-racked the weight.

I ended up tearing my S-I joint on my left side both times. At first it felt like a little strain or something, but as the day went on it really locked up on me. Both times, at around 2 or 3 in the morning I was writhing in pain and had to crawl onto the floor to try to find a comfortable position. I ended up on bed rest for 3-4 weeks each time.

No physical therapy was prescribed, and nothing other than Tylenol with Codeine. They were agonizing injuries, and I probably dropped 20lbs or so each time.

They took months to recover from, and to this day, I am still tighter on my left side than my right.


pulled my back 3 times where I was essentially immobile from the pain. 1st time I was stroking my ego deadlifting and let my form falter. I was bed-ridden for 4 days completely unable to move, and then slowly worked to stretching it and in about 2 months was up and moving around with only minimal pain.

i dont really remember how I did it the second time.

third time was not too long ago- actually on Halloween. Rack pulls after squatting and I was tired and got too far over the bar with bad form. That immediate sensation in the lower back. I laid on the floor in the gym for a bit. I immediately started a protocol of reverse hypers that day. Along with the fact I took some pain killers, I was able to go out that night with no pain- this probably helped loosen it up too.

Now, if I have ANY back pain, reverse hyper for at most a week and I am good to go... My ART doc has been doing a lot of work in soem areas of my back lately too.


well i had a compression fracture of my t-9 in a car accident, but a couple of years ago i was trying to deadlift 455. i had shit form at this time, didnt know it of course. anyway, blew out several of the discs in my lumbar region. now, theyre much better after much much physical therapy. my deadlift and squat numbers are shit now, though.


Two herniated discs. Previous injury that I tweaked deadlifting. Thankfully, I had a strong enough lower back to enable me to maintain correct posture when the inflammation came up. I couldn't walk at all for a few hours - but I got back into the gym the next day (cardio - long and slow...).

It was a bad experience but it taught me a lot about how strong the core should be, and how important it is to deload the spine from all the flexion it gets all day long.

So, a long road of supermans and stretches and slowly adding in more demanding lifts. Then to deadlifting again, starting about 50% what I could previously do. Cue to now - stronger than ever!

It is a marathon to get back from - it will be part of your life forever - but it is a journey worth taking. Just the additional awarenes of your own body is almost worth the pain.

Good luck and Godspeed!


Thank you, and great point. I definitely feel the same way. I've learned my lesson and will never allow my ego to get in the way of common sense again. Back injuries are perhaps the most devastating injuries to heavy lifters. It can really do a number on you, both physically and psychologically. How have some of you dealt with the psychological side of back injury?



Mate - yeah it takes a while to get over; it is about building the confidence back. Just start doing the movements again as soon as you can physically do them, and start the road back. My idea was - if I make my lower back stronger than any other part of my body, then it is not going to get broken again; something else will break first. So that is what I did.

Actually, for months I was doing unilateral work only (and hyperextensions - loving them). Taught me to pay attention to form and balance - can't go too heavy with one-legged squats, but damn they can kick your ass. Going through all that tough stuff made me really want to get back to doing the heavy work - because it is easier!


What about chiropractors? What have been the common experiences had by most lifters who've suffered back injuries? Have the treatments helped? Have they made the symptoms worse?

I keep hearing that chiropractic medicine is pure quackery and can actually result in permanent damage to the spine. Is there any truth in this?


Just like every town has a quack doctor, architect, mechanic, etc. it's the same with chiropractic. There's good and bad. Your best bet is to find someone who works with sports injuries on a regular basis. I get treated right at NYCC and they've helped me come back shin splints and multiples strains that I've had over time.

I can only guess but I believe that my current back problems began with shoveling snow back around my sophomore year of high school. It was fine after a couple weeks but I aggravated the pain a couple years later doing some single leg Romanian DLs with terrible balance, I couldn't deadlift for several weeks after that. Since then it's been intermittent but a severe lateral ankle sprain in January brought it back 3x as bad as before with some new pain (gait change probably).

I suspect my issue is similar to bushi's after reading a lot of his posts, mainly an overactive QL. I have soft tissue work done on it weekly which is the only modality that I've found that's worked so far. Deadlifts from a deficit and snatch grip pulls are the most problematic with low bar squats and good mornings sometimes. I front squatted exclusively for almost 4 months without a decrease in symptoms.

Haven't figured out what really works for me yet, but I'll let you guys know when I do.


FF - try an osteopath if you can find one. Like a chiro and physio put together - more holistic approach. I swear by them now; they fixed me up really quick the first time I broke myself; second time I din't need them because the osteo educated me enough for me to be able to handle the problem myself.

This is coming from a physicst / mathematician / engineer who does not believe with doctor shit!


Well, I had an MRI done last week. It confirmed what I had feared all along...I have a herniated disc at L5-S1. It would be a huge understatement to say I've been depressed for the past 8 or 9 days. I felt my fitness and strength goals slipping right through my fingers. I felt lost. I felt angry. I took my frustrations out with food, binging on everything I could get my hands on, subsequently putting on over 8 pounds.

Hearing the doctors tell me to stay away from my beloved squats and deadlifts was like hearing a death sentence imposed by a angry judge. They weren't interested in hearing of my goals or of how beneficial those exercises are to general health and well-being. Their only concern is that I don't make a mess of things and be left with surgery as the only option.

In times like these, I do what I always do - immerse myself in research. I've read just about everything I could find on disc injuries and rehabilitation. I spoke to every veteran gym rat and seeminly knowledgeable trainer. I've consulted with my great chiropractor who's suffered three herniations himself and continues to practice Gracie Jui-Jitsu at age 50. Still, the lack of quality information or consensus on causes and cures has left me feeling more confused and desperate. That is, until today.

I woke up with the intense need to be proactive; to take whatever steps I can to correct the situation as best I could. I've heard from the damning: "You're best off if you steer clear of any heavy weights for the rest of your life. You don't want to f&#!k your back up any more than it already is...it's the only one you have!" -- to the inspirational: "Heck, Louie Simmons wrecked his back several times and the old guy continues to move BIG IRON. It's no big deal! Just do lots of reverse hypers and you'll be fine!!" Regardless, I'm not content to sit on my butt hoping one day I'll be well enough to pick my future children up from the floor, content to have my wife do all the "heavy lifting" for fear that "daddy might throw his back out!" No way! No how! I'm grabbing this bull by the horns and I'm making it my bi&#h!

I've developed a 19 week rehabilitation and fitness plan that should see me shed 40+ pounds, pack on a little muscle, and, hopefully, heal my back enough to allow me to continue training safely. In many ways, I'm better off than most in my situation since I am not now, nor have I ever been, in any significant pain. Except for a few days with a very sore and stiff lower back, I have been, for all intents-and-purposes, fine - free of sciatica and what-not. But seeing that nasty bulge in the MRI tells me otherwise.

There is a long road ahead...wish me luck...

PLAN 8/24/09-12/31/09
Purpose: Rehabilitation of my lower back (with the express goal of healing the L5-S1 disc herniation), continued fat loss, increasing overall strength and conditioning.

  1. Split the next 19 weeks into three 4-week phases and a final 7-week phase. Each successive phase will emphasize increased intensity, frequency, volume, and difficulty of (mostly) bodyweight exercises, static and dynamic stretches, and yoga routines.

  2. The primary goal is to rehab the lower back injury and hopefully return to heavy weightlifting next year.

Phase 1: Weeks 1-4 (8/24/09-9/20/09) -- Introductory Phase

  1. AM: 30 min. to 1 hour of Hydrotherapy 6x/week
  2. PM: MWF: 1 hour of rehab stretching, mobility, core training:
    Bird Dog
    Contralateral Hyperextensions
    Trunk Hypers
    Side Planks
    Swiss Ball Bounces
    Poses: Cobra, Sun Salutation Backbend, Yoga Twists, Side Twists, etc.
  3. TuThSa: 1 hour of bodyweight upperbody exercises
  4. 1 hour of treadmill walking 6x/week (low speed, high incline to reduce impact)

Phase 2: Weeks 5-8 (9/21/09-10/18/09) -- Adaptation Phase

  1. AM: 30 min. to 1 hour of Hydrotherapy 6x/week
  2. PM: M-Sa: 1 hour of rehab stretching, mobility, and core training 6x/week
  3. Add more challenging rehab and bodyweight exercises. Add lower body exercises.
  4. 1 hour of treadmill walking 6x/week (low speed, high incline to reduce impact)

Phase 3: Weeks 9-12 (10/19/09-11/15/09) -- Advanced Phase

  1. AM: 30 min. to 1 hour of Hydrotherapy 6x/week
  2. PM: M-Sa: 1 hour of rehab stretching, mobility, and core training 6x/week
  3. Total body bodyweight training
  4. Include Yoga 3x/week.
  5. Begin Spinning classes for accelerated fat loss

Phase 4: Weeks 13-19 (11/16/09-12/31/09) -- Mastery Phase

  1. Twice daily intensive Yoga 6x/week
  2. Bodyweight training with some weight-bearing exercises such as weighted hyperextensions
  3. Spinning classes for accelerated fat loss



my only really serious injury was several years ago, while deadlifting. Near lock-out a had a pinch feeling in th ehips or low back. The next day I could hardly move. the pain and inability to move, bend or turn in any way without great pain last for about 2 weeks.
I figure my form was off and maybe I rounded my back or tilted forward far too much while trying to pull.

since then i've learned to lay on an ice pack after a heavy pull day, especially if I sense the form was off a bit. that will keep the injured area from too much inflamation. and speed recovery.


Poor correlation between MRI and disc pathology.

Sounds like you have a good attitude and plan. In your first phase, be careful with the curl up. If it causes symptoms I'd back off, try again in a week or two.