T Nation

Training After Back Surgery?

I’ve had a history of back problems and since last June spent more time injured and rehabbing than training. It came to a head 4 weeks ago when I couldn’t walk upright for 2 weeks so I saw a spinal specialist and he got me into surgery ASAP after he saw my MRI.

I had my L3-L4 disc removed and replaced with a spacer. The bone from the adjacent discs should fill the space over the next year according to the surgeon.

The surgeon said no weights at all for the next 6 months and then after that, light weight high reps. His exact comments about the heavy weights was “That’s for the young guys.” I’m 35.

Anyway, I’d like to hear if anyone has had a disc removed and if they were able get back to training 100%. Or maybe if someone trains with someone who’s had the procedure that looks like they lift serious weights. Any relevant thoughts or opinions on the topic would be welcome as well.

I tried the injury sub-forum but got no responses. I also spent a long time on google but still got nothing. The questions been posted on various forums but I didn’t see any responses from anyone that actually looks or sounds like they seriously train.

Well from what I can tell you, It is possible…at least in my OPINION. I haven’t had anything near as serious as you, but I did break my back. I had a pars defect in the L4 L5 region. A fractured vertabrae. I was in a back brace for Eight months so it could heal. Doc said it might have been caused from repetitive pounding from my martial arts.

Long story short, I studied athletic training in college so I rehabed myself and now I deadlift and sqaut and overhead press with no issues. So I guess what I’m saying is if you take the healing/down time seriously you should be back to good form in no time. I think you might have to be a little more selective in exercises and how heavy the weights are tho.

One point my doctor told me was to be careful not to hyperextend my back or I could re-injure the area but I think I’m past that. IT happened in 2008 and I’m 26 now. I know this isn’t your exact situation but I hope this helps. There is always a chance, you know?

Did you have other options besides disc removal? Just curious.

[quote]joben wrote:
Did you have other options besides disc removal? Just curious.[/quote]

I’ve had bad back pain since Jan 2008 (before I even started lifting). I tried 2 chiros and 3 physical therapists over the years and it didn’t help. My insurance even stopped covering my physical therapy because lack of results. I was fine training around the injury and did NOT want surgery.

But the last 6 months was a whole new level. The disc was so herniated, that it felt like I got kicked in the balls every morning during back spasms. The surgeon said the herniated disc was pushing against a nerve that caused the pain in the balls. He warned it could cause permanent nerve damage. My balls feel better now so it was definitely related.

Disc replacement was discussed but not a good option for me according to the surgeon.

[quote]FrozenNinja wrote:
Well from what I can tell you, It is possible…at least in my OPINION. I haven’t had anything near as serious as you, but I did break my back. I had a pars defect in the L4 L5 region. A fractured vertabrae. I was in a back brace for Eight months so it could heal. Doc said it might have been caused from repetitive pounding from my martial arts.

Long story short, I studied athletic training in college so I rehabed myself and now I deadlift and sqaut and overhead press with no issues. So I guess what I’m saying is if you take the healing/down time seriously you should be back to good form in no time. I think you might have to be a little more selective in exercises and how heavy the weights are tho.

One point my doctor told me was to be careful not to hyperextend my back or I could re-injure the area but I think I’m past that. IT happened in 2008 and I’m 26 now. I know this isn’t your exact situation but I hope this helps. There is always a chance, you know?[/quote]

Thanks for the info and glad to hear you’re healed up. I have been dealing with a herniated disc and a bulging for years so I’ve been training around it from the start. I’ve never been able to back squat or deadlift so I’ll probably continue to avoid those. It’s just tough to hear that I can’t lift heavy ever again so it’s good to hear that you were able to.

The average person will tell me to just listen to the doctor. But the first knee surgeon I saw to do my ACL reconstruction said I’d never play basketball again. I used another surgeon and I was playing B-Ball in less than a year post surgery with a brace on. I’m thinking most doctors play it safe when they discuss recovery so it’s good to hear others experience.

[quote]sam_sneed wrote:

[quote]joben wrote:
Did you have other options besides disc removal? Just curious.[/quote]

I’ve had bad back pain since Jan 2008 (before I even started lifting). I tried 2 chiros and 3 physical therapists over the years and it didn’t help. My insurance even stopped covering my physical therapy because lack of results. I was fine training around the injury and did NOT want surgery.

But the last 6 months was a whole new level. The disc was so herniated, that it felt like I got kicked in the balls every morning during back spasms. The surgeon said the herniated disc was pushing against a nerve that caused the pain in the balls. He warned it could cause permanent nerve damage. My balls feel better now so it was definitely related.

Disc replacement was discussed but not a good option for me according to the surgeon. [/quote]

Thanks for sharing. I have similar issues though a lot more mild than yours.

[quote]joben wrote:

Thanks for sharing. I have similar issues though a lot more mild than yours.[/quote]

No problem. I did a lot of research and really tried to avoid surgery. I’ve read about a bunch of well know guys training with herniated discs (Ronnie Coleman, Dave Tate) but yet have come across one who had a disc removed and compete.

[quote]sam_sneed wrote:

But the last 6 months was a whole new level. The disc was so herniated, that it felt like I got kicked in the balls every morning during back spasms. The surgeon said the herniated disc was pushing against a nerve that caused the pain in the balls. He warned it could cause permanent nerve damage. My balls feel better now so it was definitely related. [/quote]

yikes… hope I never herniate anything

Did he perform the procedure laterally or from a posterior approach?

[quote]Ironbear wrote:
Did he perform the procedure laterally or from a posterior approach?[/quote]

Honestly, I have no idea. He showed me the before and after x-ray, showed me the titanium rods and explained that a spacer disc is in place until the bone grows in over the next year. There are scars on both sides of my back, but one side definitely had more scarring and inflammation than the other. He said more work was done on that side. Aside from that, I don’t really know all the details.

What is the difference between the two approaches? It wasn’t brought up pre-surgery. Thanks.

It was a posterior approach. You only spoke about the spacer earlier in the thread and did not mention the rods and screws. Once everything has healed you should be able to lift as you wish.
The bone graft inside of the spacer (interbody cage) should grow into solid bone over the course of the next 9-12 months. The Surgeon most likely performed a posterolateral fusion as well, which means bone graft was also placed along the sides of the rods to fuse L3 and L4 together. The rods are only there to keep everything immobilized to allow the bone graft a chance to heal and grow into solid bone.

Think of it like a fracture that gets immbolized with a cast, if its moving it won’t heal properly. Your “cast” are those rods and screws, and they will allow the new bone to heal.
Good luck with your recovery!

[quote]Ironbear wrote:
It was a posterior approach. You only spoke about the spacer earlier in the thread and did not mention the rods and screws. Once everything has healed you should be able to lift as you wish.
The bone graft inside of the spacer (interbody cage) should grow into solid bone over the course of the next 9-12 months. The Surgeon most likely performed a posterolateral fusion as well, which means bone graft was also placed along the sides of the rods to fuse L3 and L4 together. The rods are only there to keep everything immobilized to allow the bone graft a chance to heal and grow into solid bone.

Think of it like a fracture that gets immbolized with a cast, if its moving it won’t heal properly. Your “cast” are those rods and screws, and they will allow the new bone to heal.
Good luck with your recovery!
[/quote]

Thanks alot, that was very helpful. I appreciate it.

So I guess it would make sense to stay away from the heavy weight for a year until the bone fully heals and grows? I was looking into lifting light from about 6 months post surgery and not even considering going heavy till over a year out.

Your Doctor will be able to tell you when it is fully healed based upon Xrays. Don’t push too much, or it won’t heal. If it doesn’t heal, you will end up with what is called psuedarthrosis (failed fusion) and could be looking at another surgery and you DON’T want that.

[quote]Ironbear wrote:
Your Doctor will be able to tell you when it is fully healed based upon Xrays. Don’t push too much, or it won’t heal. If it doesn’t heal, you will end up with what is called psuedarthrosis (failed fusion) and could be looking at another surgery and you DON’T want that.[/quote]

Thanks for the info. I have a bunch of follow up visits with him over the next year so I’ll go by his assessments and take it easy. There is no way I’d want to go through surgery again.