T Nation

Weightlifters With Herniated Discs


Hey all,

I was wondering how many competitive weightlifters, bodybuilders, and powerlifters/strongmen are known to have herniated a disc sometime in their careers and yet managed to make a total comeback?

I know only of Ronnie Coleman who, it is said, herniated a disc at least 4 times and yet manages to deadlift 800lbs for doubles!

You would think the prevalence of serious back injuries would be very high but yet one only tends to hear of knee and shoulder injuries sidelining athletes. Why is that?

Well, anyway, I had an MRI that confirmed a herniation at L5-S1 (see picture). I got this little beauty deadlifting more weight than I should have with real shitty form. I'm agressively rehabbing the injury with heat/ice, PT, chiropractic adjustments, ultrasound, and electric stim.

Also taking tons of curcumin and microlactin for the inflammation. Luckily, I have only slight pain in the back with some stiffness from time to time but no sciatica. If any of you have experienced something similar and yet managed to bounce back, I'd love to hear your story. Thanks!!


I am just now getting back into the gym after herniating the disc at L4-L5 back in March. I had an absolutely awful case of sciatica - the pain was worse than anything I have felt in my life. I think I did it trying a program of 5 X 5 on the 3 powerlifts 3 times a week.

For me, that just doesn't work; I don't think my body was recovering enough between workouts. I was scheduled for microdiscectomy in early June, but fortunately it started to improve on its own and I was able to cancel the surgery. I have now started to get back into training. Needless to say, I lost quite a bit of strength from being off for 5 months, but now I'm starting to get it back.

I am now working with a personal trainer and am much more conservative in my training. Now I put a premium on good form and adequate recovery, and all lifts are done with strict "spine-neutral" position.


I had a slowly progressing L5-S1 that began about 2 years ago, and got very bad about a a year ago. I really didn't take much time off of lifting, rather I changed a few of my lifts and went real easy on others. I aggressively strengthened my core/increased hip flexibility by using Magnificent Mobility exercises twice, sometimes 3x, per day. In addition, I did back extensions like crazy (like 4 x 15-20 with 45+ 4 days a week)....anything to push that disk back in.

I've been relatively pain free for 6 months now, and my lower body strength is coming back up. I only front squat now, and my deadlift is pretty piss-poor...but I am very happy with my progress.
I don't know much about electrostim for disk herniations, maybe BBB can chime in there. IF surgery was in the back of your mind, take it out. Any truthful Orthopod/Neurosurgeon will tell you laminectomy or micro-decompressions are reserved for herniations refractory to conservative treatments or to serious herniations (ie cauda equina syndrome). The rate of recurrence is very high


Hey doc, thanks for the reply. How did you confirm the herniation? Did you have an MRI performed? Judging from my MRI, how bad would you say it is?

Do you ever intend to return to heavy back squats, or are they out for good? About the deadlifts, have they given you any problems? Do you do them sumo or conventional? I keep hearing that the shear forces from DLs can wreak havoc on a herniated disc, though I've also heard of several members bouncing back and hitting PRs on the deadlift after serious back injuries. Apart from Lois Simmons and Ronnie Coleman, what other Powerlifters/Bodybuilders have returned from such an injury? What rehab plans did they follow?

Thanks for any answers...


Yes I confirmed my clinical suspicion with an MRI that showed an L5-S1 herniation. It s difficult for me to comment on the severity of your herniation: 1. I am only a student (not a doctor quite yet) 2. The grading system on lumbar herniations is controversial and there is not a great consensus over how they should be graded. 3. Honestly the grade doesn't matter that much, what matters is your symptoms. You have slight back pain....which is MUCH better sounding than what I would have described at my worst.

As far as my future with lifts goes...I don't see a reason to switch to back squatting. Plenty of non-injured lifters prefer front squats and they feel much better on my back. I do not claim to be a wiz at biomechanics, but front squatting and sumo deadlifting give me less pain (if any at all) than back squats and normal stance DLs do. Your comment on lifters hitting PRs after injuries is completely true. This is a VERY common injury. I believe Dave Tate claims to have multiple herniated disks. The key is to be proactive and take care of your injury now. Don't wait until the pain is bad enough to force you into a strict rehab program. I told you what I used to rehab but there is a wealth of knowledge out there so I encourage you to look around. If you use the search function there is another poster that used Magnificent Mobility with great success as well.


Hey felix,

Did your sciatica alleviate to some degree before you started lifting again? What did you do for rehab? Also, you mention your training, have you returned to squatting/deadlifting? If so, how have those lifts changed (apart from the aforementioned drop in weight)? Do you pull conventionally? Do you back squat?



I wish I could agree with this, but in my experience, if a back injury is going to get worse, it is going to get worse no matter how proactive you are, and despite the best of rehab regimens by well-respected names. Proactive rehab might not hurt compared to just walking and letting time pass, but in my case I suspect it may have made things worse.

I was proactive right away. Right now, after five months of getting worse, I would be happy just to be able to sleep, feel my foot, and eventually do luges. I will never squat or deadlift again.


Last week I was doing dumbbell deadlifts (since the trap bar was gone) and I was asked why I didn't deadlift via sumo.

I replied that I have back issues (I have a bulging disc) and told the individual I want the weight closer to the center plane of movement. For me, normal deadlifting and back squatting would be great but now the risks outweigh the benefits. If I hurt my back, I throw all my progress out the window for weeks.

As a result, I go heavy with front squats, trap bars and as much as the weight allows, dumbbell deadlifts.

I could probably squat or deadlift normally, but it's like playing with fire.


Hey man, I know how frustrating this can be. But, don't give up on therapy. Maybe you're just not ready for intense physical rehab yet. It's only been 5 months. That may seem like a long time, but I've heard it can take upwards of several years for a disc to heal properly. Maybe you should avoid strenous physical activity for a while and then gradually work your way into physical therapy. You can probably start doing light hydrotherapy a few times a week, then move into more advanced McKenzie-type extension exercises, etc. If you want, PM me and I'll send you my rehab program.

BTW, how did you injure your back? Have you had an MRI?


Don't the front squats put a lot of pressure on your lower back? The last time I hurt myself warming up with front squats (I had stopped back squats months ago). I only had 95lbs on the bar!

Do you plan on ever returning to "normal" squats and deadlifts again? How did you injur yourself initially?


Front squats keep me more upright,and less chance for rounding the back. I don't plan on returning to "normal" squats and deadlifts. Again, I don't think it's worth it. I'm getting the same results from the trap bar deadlifts and front squats.

Regarding my initial injury, there wasn't an acute injury. My belief is the back is injured numerous times, and over a period of time, the "last straw" breaks the back. Most back injuries aren't acute, but cumulative trauma-then it's too late.


Yes; at its worst, my sciatica was so bad that I couldn't even walk, so I had to take a few weeks and let it heal a bit before I could even think about lifting! For rehab, I followed a core strengthening and stretching routine set up for me by my physical therapist.

I have resumed squatting and deadlifting, but I do them much different now. Before, I pulled conventional, but now I pull sumo since it allows me to keep my torso very erect and minimizes lumbar pressure; as I said before, I put a premium on keeping my spine in a neutral position in all lifts. Also, I used to squat with a shoulder-width stance. When I resumed working out with a trainer, he pointed out that I was rounding my back at the bottom (this may have been what caused my disc problem in the first place). He had me try a stance about 2-3 inches wider than shoulder width on each side, and that worked much better.

I would strongly encourage anyone who is having problems like recurring back pain to find a good trainer. They might be able to spot the self-destructive things you're doing right off the bat and help you eliminate them.


It may be possible for you to squat and deadlift again. I had a couple of bulging discs in my lower back a few years ago and it went away eventually. I had to stop squatting and deadlifting for about 6 months. By then the pain was nearly gone, but somehow I re-injured the same spot, I forgot how. After a few months, the pain slowly went away and I started squatting again. Been pain-free since. However, I don't squat that heavy because I'm just plain weak, havn't gone over 320 for reps yet.






Read Mcgill, ruptured disk was told surgery was the only way to go, the doc said no more training, work career looked bleak. I ignored them, did tons of research I had time due to being unable to walk. Got into inversion, kettle bells, pull throughs, core work and then back into training slowly.

I now squat and deadlift again, no great totals but I'm getting better each workout. Here in the UK the system is not used to people wanting toget back into full training again, good luck and keep going cheers Spud


At what point does radiculitis become an emergency?

My doctor basically told me not to bother him unless I notice paralysis or incontinence. Nothing that bad, but I have been having symptoms not only in the leg and foot but also extending to the testicle and the penis. That is not an area where one wants to lose sensation!

By the way, this sciatica is the result of nerve insult during a botched epidural steroid injection. I had only local back pain before the injection, and I would do anything now to be able to go back in time and not have the injection.


I did, three months ago. Bulging discs to left at L4/L5 and L5/S1. Small posterior central annular tear at L5/S1. The initial injury I just got up with one morning. The pain went away in a week, but then I made it worse a couple of weeks later by light squatting after a long layoff.

I think these MRIs are obsolete by now. Symptoms got much worse since then, and then had a cortisone injection that made things even more worse. Back then I had only local back pain, and now I have worsening radiculitis.

Getting doctors to retake MRIs is like pulling teeth.


How was the cortisone injection administered? Did they use some sort of locating device (such as ultrasound or x-ray)? Or did they just go by feel?

There are lots of known side effects from cortisone shots.


They used guided x-ray with dye. They still botched it. Gave me incredible pain and a pretty bad convulsion right there on the table with the needle in me.


I have had quite a few herniated discs in my low back, midback and neck. Confirmed by MRI. My first lumbar herniation was in 1984. From carwrecks, combat sports etc. I have had sciatica on a couple of occassions, and the similar radicular pain down the right arm once before. I do ok now. My best deadlift was a 500+ deadlift. I have also done a 365 X 7 Romanian deadlift. I have done a 365 X 15 squat, in 2003. Now I just do leg presses though.