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Barbell training and back injury and recovery
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MOVSM Offline
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Barbell training and back injury and recovery
About three months ago, I injured my back while deadlifting, in a really stupid way. I know exactly what I did wrong. While this may still serve as a cautionary tale, this treatise is about my experience with doctors and recovery.

INJURY.
It was my last lift of the day. I was deadlifting 380, with an eye to increase the weight next workout. This was a weight I pulled before, and I was confident. After the first rep, I decided to adjust the grip as it was hurting, but took too long to do it. The pressure ran out, and I couldn’t pull the second time. This pissed me off, and I tried to lift again. I should have waited a few minutes instead, but I let my ego get to me. The bar got about six inches off the ground, when I heard a rather loud “crunch” and felt something similar to a rope tearing on the left side of the lower spine. These big, compound lifts require perfect form, but in my moment of hubris I let the form go to shit and arched my back, a huge no-no for a deadlift. I racked the plates, and that was the end of my workout.

RECOVERY.
Initially, I thought this was nothing more than a torn muscle, and I went to the Starting Strength Facebook page to ask. Before y’all tell me how stupid this was, this page is where Starting Strength coaches hang out, some of whom happen to be medical professionals themselves. One of the doctor coaches recommended I get under the bar with light weight and gradually increase it. Unfortunately, I mistook it for the Starr Rehab Protocol, a method for a recovery from a torn muscle.
This requires working through the pain, which was the wrong thing to do—the pain got worse, and spread down to my leg. The pain got so bad, I didn’t want to walk, for about a week. Imagine a muscle spasm, a Charley horse, but not a regular one, but an extra painful one. Like something is searing your leg from the inside as it spasms. At first you think you can take it, but after several days of these spasms every 10-15 minutes or so, you begin to dread it.

I finally broke down, and went to see a sports medicine doctor. Unfortunately, she turned out to be a chiropractor. She misdiagnosed me with an SI ligament sprain, adjusted my back, which relieved the pain, and sent me on my way. The pain returned in the morning.

Finally, I saw a medical doctor, who diagnosed it as “some form of disc herniation, probably a bulged disc.” He told me that my “core wasn’t strong enough.” I wanted to slap him—I deadlifted 380, squatted 295, and in neither case did I fall on my face. Exactly how much stronger did my core need to be? To further mock my condition, he gave me strengthening exercises which he himself admitted, were usually given to 90-year-old ladies. Then, if it didn’t work, he would discuss surgery. The only good that came out of that interaction was muscle relaxant medicine, which helped and I could again function.

Back to the Starting Strength Facebook group. I asked for coaches in my area, because I needed to see someone in person. The suggested Starting Strength Coach database revealed a coach within a 2-hour drive who was also a physician assistant. She turned out an in-shape early 40s mom of four, whose husband owned the gym. She had four disc hernias of her own. We talked about our experiences with injury and medical malpractice. She corrected my form (something you should do on at least an annual basis due to form creep) and told me to start with low weight and avoid the pain at all costs. Then increase the weight as the pain permits. I’ve been doing exactly that since, letting the pain be the limiting factor.

I have not yet made a full recovery, but I am well on the way to do so. Today my squat was 240 for three sets of five reps. My deadlift was again 315, three plates on each end. The weight keeps going up.

CONCLUSION.
My case is not unique, nor is it the worst case of back injury one made a full recovery from using this method. For example, LtCol Mac Ward described his full recovery from “drop foot”, a nerve damage causing the toes to drag on the ground while walking, a very serious condition. There are more cases of back and other injuries and recoveries using the Starting Strength method. Use the search function on their website.

As an anecdote, my co-worker, who is not a lifter, herniated a disc while swimming. I didn’t know that was even possible. Nearly a year later, he is still struggling, and in pain. Doctors are recommending surgery. By contrast, because I had more and stronger muscle, my pain was gone in a month and three months later I am back to lifting serious weight. I didn’t need to go to a doctor since I saw the coach.

This will definitely take a toll on me, and I will probably develop arthritis later on. I don’t recommend you do this to yourself, or others. But the presence of strong muscles will shield your back and will prevent a more serious injury.

In the end, we all heal. You must take an active part in it. Good luck and Godspeed.

I am afraid that women appreciate cruelty, downright cruelty, more than anything else. They have wonderfully primitive instincts. We have emancipated them, but they remain slaves looking for their masters all the same. They love being dominated.
--Oscar Wilde
01-03-2019 12:17 AM
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RE: Barbell training and back injury and recovery
Good luck man, and be careful.

So what is the official diagnosis? Was the first doctor you saw correct? Herniated disc? If so your squat will suffer the most. Generally these sorts of injuries are caused and/or exasperated by putting weight vertically on the spine which can compact your vertebrae. Sciatic is the most common side effect as the bulging disc can push against your sciatic nerve. I don't know if a herniated disc can get better on it's own with recovery/therapy. Might be something that will just get worse over time without surgery.
01-03-2019 12:36 PM
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RE: Barbell training and back injury and recovery
I hurt my back deadlifting about six months ago. I was afraid I needed surgery, but fortunately it healed with rest. I popped my back lifting 300.

When I started again, I started doing deadlifts with a landmine rather than the traditional method. It. was. amazing. Better angle, better for my back, better all around.

Now that my back is getting better, I've stuck with the landmine variant. I think it is superior, but that's only my opinion. Your mileage may vary. I'm up to 275 on the landmine on my recovery.

I'm 53, by the way, if that's important.

Лучше поздно, чем никогда

...life begins at "70% Warning Level."....
01-03-2019 08:38 PM
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MOVSM Offline
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Post: #4
RE: Barbell training and back injury and recovery
I never got a diagnosis more official than “some form of disc herniation, probably a bulged disc.” The doctor didn't want to do an x-ray or an MRI because "the treatment is going to be all the same." All actual quotes. The coach I saw confirmed the suspicion, since she had to deal with it herself, and in the gym with others.

This injury certainly won't make things any better, but it is important to understand that our backs will degenerate with age because we are bipeds. This is regardless of anything else you do. And only the strong muscles will shield your back against the pain. Here is Mark Rippetoe's article describing how that works.
That same article also states that back surgery is ineffective 2/3 of the time. Avoid it as much as possible.

I haven't had sciatica or back pain since I started my recovery. My back does complain the day after the workout, when it didn't before the injury. I let it rest, and when the tightness goes away, I go under the bar again. The weight gradually increases.

By the way, if your squat puts vertical pressure on your spine, you're doing it wrong. The only exercise that does is the overhead press, and the weight there tends to be much lighter.
[Image: 20170519_600.jpg]

I am afraid that women appreciate cruelty, downright cruelty, more than anything else. They have wonderfully primitive instincts. We have emancipated them, but they remain slaves looking for their masters all the same. They love being dominated.
--Oscar Wilde
01-03-2019 10:58 PM
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RV_p Offline
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Post: #5
RE: Barbell training and back injury and recovery
Here are my two cents with similar disc hernia. In december of 2012 I went out and stayed outside for a half an hour wearing fuck all but a t shirt in -35. Next morning I woke up practically paralyzed from waist down on my right leg. I could not walk, sit, lay, and had hard times taking a shit as it would send me into agonizing pain,and, no joke, I couldn't feel my balls, as with hernia related pain often enough you lose sensitivity. In the emergency room I found that they can do operation on the spot if you start pissing yourself. At the time, I choose morphine instead.

The next few month I spent familiarizing myself with Canadian medicine and being bounced between doctors just to sign up for MRI... in 6 month. I went to private clinic and did scan within a week. What came out was a shitty surprise. 1 disc so pumped out you could actually feel it with hands on lower spine, 1-2 are close to start causing problems, plus 1-2 more are degraded. All caused by me sitting like a bent asshole for a few years in high school, and now being brought to life and aggravated by shivering in cold.

That was bad time guys, I would do anything to stop that pain, but it would mean that I had to fuse atleast one disc. With mobility problems caused by operation there would be quite big chance that discs around would degrade and lead to problems pretty soon. So it was either operation fusing half my back or start trying alternative solutions despite horrendous pain. Thanks to all Gods that I went with latter.

I did all kinds of stuff, like different types of physio, various massage techniques, acupuncture, de-compressor machine (stretches you back and forth), different kind of drugs. After about of 3-4 month of doing all of that and tons of cash gone pain went away and I was able to start going to gym.

My back is ok now, unless I get sick and get shivers, but sometimes with odd sleep my hand goes numb and one eye loses sensation, as I have few discs messed in my neck. Discs are obviously never going heal, and, in fact, going to be pretty fucking bad when suckers hit old age, so consider your timer already started. It is possible to mitigate some effects depending on the condition with lifting, gym and some drugs. Your doesn't seem too bad, so you going to be okay.

For those who are reading this from death bed clinging their teeth from pain stay strong my dude, and there is a good chance it will go away if you exercise and take painkillers with muscle relaxants for a few month, even though it seems like you would rather die right now. If that doesnt work and you decide to go for operation, CHECK YOUR OPTIONS! back in 2012 they had other solutions to fusing! In germany they had doctors filling those spots between dics with gel, in theory, you wont actually lose mobility, costs were at 40k+. Don't get depressed, and don't drink with painkillers, be careful with weed as some sorts aggravate nerve sensitivity. PM me if you need someone to talk!

So stay safe dudes and watch your form.
01-04-2019 12:28 AM
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