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weightlifting with herniated disc
Posted: Wed Oct 10, 2007 2:16 pm
Hi. I'm a 32 year old man, 6'4" tall, 215 lbs. Just over two years ago I suffered a herniated disc (L5-S1), to the point where I was unable to use my right leg and could not walk normally. I went through four months of physical therapy, then did pilates three times a week for eight months. At the end of all that, I had recovered almost completely -- my symptoms now consist of an occasional tingling in my right foot, and cramping in my right calf when I point my toes on that foot.
Since the end of my pilates course, I have started exercising again and am definitely now stronger than I was before the accident. I'm still concerned, however, that some exercises may be more dangerous for me than for someone without my history of injury. I read the essay on dangerous exercises on this website, and I'm wondering how it applies to someone in my situation.
I do currently include both box squats and deadlifts in my workout program, being sure to keep perfect form in both, and I feel that these exercises are very helpful, but I've also heard that they are inadvisable for people with herniated discs. One type of exercise I don't currently do is anything involving lumbar flexion, such as Straight-Legged Deadlifts, but I'm also beginning to feel some stiffness in my lower back, and I wonder whether it would be helped by doing exercises that do involve flexing my spine under controlled conditions.
Does anyone have any advice or suggestions? Thanks in advice for your help.
Posted: Wed Oct 10, 2007 5:46 pm
In my best opinion I'd cut out deadlifting all together and use machines that could possibly work those muscles involved in that type of lift. Or if you do deside to continue use a belt and be very careful/controlled with the lift and don't ever try to find your 1rm. If you feel undesirable sensations from the way you did a lift then make sure you stop. My dad has a couple herniated disks and he was in agony for a while because of those and I'm confident you don't want to go through that again.
Re: weightlifting with herniated disc
Posted: Wed Oct 10, 2007 10:50 pm
MikeS wrote:I do currently include both box squats and deadlifts in my workout program, being sure to keep perfect form in both, and I feel that these exercises are very helpful, but I've also heard that they are inadvisable for people with herniated discs. One type of exercise I don't currently do is anything involving lumbar flexion, such as Straight-Legged Deadlifts, but I'm also beginning to feel some stiffness in my lower back, and I wonder whether it would be helped by doing exercises that do involve flexing my spine under controlled conditions.
My advice to you is to listen to your body when you exercise. If any exercise causes you pain in the lower back, then don't do it. But if the pain is absent, then go for it. Start light with a new exercise, then slowly and methodically up the weight. But always put form above moving more weight.
I disagree with the belief that deadlifts ands squats are bad for the lower back. They're bad if you use excessive weight and poor form, but if you do things right (as you seem to be doing), they are of great benefit. They are certainly better than the lumbar back extension machines that you find in most gyms.
There's folklore about back extension machines being useful for rehabbing bad backs (and leg extension machines rehabbing bum knees). But compound exercises are not only superior to isolation exercises for building strength, but also for rehabbing injuries.
With stiff legged deadlifts, I would start very light (just the bar), and focus more on increasing the range of motion than on upping the weight. Do not move to the point of pain, however. Stretching out the hamstring should be done as well - a large amount of lower back problems are due to tight hamstrings. You should stretch the hip flexors as well.
Good luck, and happy training.
Posted: Thu Oct 11, 2007 6:18 am
My advice would be to priotise hip movement - work on hip mobility. This is my second time today recommending this DVD but I (and others) rate it so highly - look up "magnificient mobility" by Eric Cressey and Mike robertson. It consists mostly of dynamic movements which will losen up those hips and thus take a lot of stress away from your lower back (not to mention the knee joint as well).
For learning purposes, read anything by the authors/coaches above, and especially Dr Stuart Mcgill, who, if you do some searches and find interviews etc, you will find him recommending Maginifient Mobility for the same reason - hip mobility.
This site also references Dr Stuart Mcgill, as well as recommending one of his books - http://www.exrx.net/Store/HK/LowBackDisorders.html
Another important point is regarding Box Squats and Deadlifts. If you are box squating correctly i.e. sitting BACK onto the box, and actually sitting, not 'tapping it', then you are basically hitting all of the same posterior chain muscles as the deadlift. In other words, you should EITHER be box squating, or deadlifting - rotate between the 2 instead of doing both. Doing both is probably hitting your lower back region too much and may even be the reason that you are getting that stiffness in your lower back.
On that note (rant alert), squating and deadlifting is not bad for lifters. If anything, it's the lifter that is bad for squating and dead lifting. If you have imbalances and then go on to do total body exercises like squats and DL's, then those same imbalances are just going to emphasised by the resistance you've just put on the bar. And any joints that lack flexibility will cause other parts of your body to compensate for the lack of movement such as the lower back and hip relationship. Your lower back should be STABLE with minimal movement, your hips should be MOBILE. When your hips can move enough, your lower back and knees pick up the slack - normally the joints above and below the one in question will compensate. On top of that, a stable joint that is forced to be mobile will eventually lose stability (i.e. injury). So really it's no wonder squats and dl's have such a bad name with our ever increasing computer culture (bad posture).
Another small point is straight leg deadlifts. For future reference, do STIFF leg dead lifts, not straight. With stiff leg, your legs are stiff, but your knees can be bent enough to allow you to complete the movement without flexing the lumbar spine.
Finally, Foam rolling, another thing I keep going on about, it could work wonder for you if you have tight hips.
Feel better for $10
Posted: Thu Oct 11, 2007 6:37 am
Some things I forgot to mention...
It may be worth adding a tempo to some exercises, like deadlifts or even 'rack pulls' - which are partial deadlifts and you don't really need your hips to be completely mobile to do them. When you lift with a tempo, you can't lift as much weight but you go slower and it gives you chance to wake up all those sleeping muscles. It may be worth it for 2 weeks or so, it's almost like taking a closer look at things.
Strengthen the glutes. This point goes hand in hand with hip mobility, the glutes and Hamstrings (as has already been mentioned) are very important for lower back health
In this article, you will see "Pull thoughs" and the "Pallof Press" - http://www.t-nation.com/readArticle.do?id=1713121
I would highly recommend you done pull throughs especially (basically a DL with a cable)
READ THIS - it's a recap / review of a Dr Stuart Mcgill seminar with take home points in a quick fire fashion
Get a foam roller (i already said this, i'm saying it again on purpose lol)
Posted: Thu Oct 11, 2007 8:06 am
Thanks for the fantastic advice. That's given me a lot of reading material and a lot to work with.
KPj, that's an interesting point about the overlap between box squats and deadlifts. I think I'm probably not doing the box squat correctly yet -- my 2RM in the deadlift is 315lbs at the minute, but I don't think I've done much above 220 in the box squat. But if what you say is right (and it makes sense to me) my numbers should be much closer between the two exercises. I'll try concentrating on the squats for a while, since I've been putting more energy into DLs recently, and see if I can bring those numbers up too.
Also a funny coincidence you recommended that Gentilcore program too -- I was just thinking about doing that after I finish the program I'm doing right now.
Posted: Thu Oct 11, 2007 8:36 am
Mikes - with the box squat, by doing it 'correctly', I mean sitting back on the box. So, your shins are basically positioned slightly past veritcal in the 'sitting back' position. In that position, your glutes, hams, erectors etc are going to get hammered to a similar extent that they do with deadlifts. You also need to 'explode' up, in a similar fashion to deadlift - dip, grip, and RIP, lol.
It takes the squat into a sort of seated good morning / squat type exercise with an explosive blast up to the top position. I'm honestly not sure what your box squat numbers should be like in comparison to your deadlift. I'm not sure what the best comparison would be because you can have the box at different heights and you can use different stance widths but it's something i'm going to look into. both exercises are great posterior chain workers. Personally, I will deadlift for one phase and change to box squats as you suggested, alot of the time i switch them up every 2 weeks.
For more info on box squats, the usual resources are good but elitefts.com has lots of great info on this - it's a power lifting favourite.
Pull throughs, although they look like a dead lift with a cable, are an assistance exercise and a really good exercise for people who need posterior chain work. It's something you could slip in later on in a work out, high reps (12), light weight and really focus on squeezing the glutes. Just a thought....