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Running with back injuries - anyone else? (Read 1000 times)

    I have a long history of back injuries. It seems to be a genetic thing, my back just isn't all it should be. At least two previous L5 disc prolapses, and I scored the hat trick late last month.

     

    This one was especially nasty -- narrowly avoided emergency surgery when it looked like the prolapse was compressing some vital nerve roots. Fortunately it's resolving itself. The doctor said my MRI practically screams SURGERY, but my symptoms suggest that it's better to watch and wait.

     

    I told the doctor -- an ortho surgeon -- that giving up running was not an option. I expected some pushback, but he was actualy pretty relaxed about giving me the green light to start ramping up my mileage again. If it's not causing pain (and in fact running actually REDUCES my pain) then there's no need to stop.

     

    More to the point, he agreed that there's no cut-and-dried link between running and degenerative disc disease. Yes, it might contribute to osteoarthritis, especially 20 or 25 years down the line. Or it might not. Or it may not matter by then if stem-cell therapy or some other solution is available. Or I might get hit by a truck next week. C'est la vie.

     

    So screw it. I have a 10K to train for, and life is short.

     

    Anyway, I'm curious: Has anyone else here dealt with chronic back problems, especially ones involving disc prolapse? How has it affected you, and has it prompted you to change or cut your running?

     

    I might yet choose surgery someday -- if the benefits outweigh the costs. Has anyone else gone that route for disc problems, and what was the recovery like?

     

    Didn't see a thread about this on the forums yet, and I know that back problems affect a lot of people, so I'm curious to hear from others here!

    ultrarunnerrob


      I do not know if if will help in your situation, but I have been seeing a chiropractor.  I was in a bike accident 11 years ago where I landed on my head.  My back needless to say got very screwed up.  I am an ultra runner and seing the chiropractor has been wonderful 

        Ouch! Gotta hate those head-first landings.

         

        I'm wary of chiropractic treatment at this point, mostly because of where I'm having problems -- dangerously close to the nerve roots at the base of my spine.

         

        It's really a matter of whether my body will re-absorb the separated disc material or whether it'll have to be removed surgically at some point. Right now it looks like I can probably avoid surgery.

          I've had lumbar disc herniation of some degree since I was 18 years old.  I've been running very regularly for about 18 years and, if anything, my back has improved over that time.  I used to regularly have 'episodes' that would last about a week where I could not even stand up it was so bad.  Went to chiros and almost had surgery at one point but decided against it as the outcome was far from guaranteed positive.  

           

          I've increased my running  quite a bit over the years and I have not had one of those episodes for about 10 years now, though my back is still stiff and sometimes sore.   Weight loss and being generally fit probably helped a good bit.  I still run OK for a 50 year old with a chronic bad back.  I figure as long as it doen't hurt to run I'll keep going.  Good luck.

            Not disc prolapse, but I sprained my lower back in 7th grade and injured my neck in a car accident when I was five.  The neck behaves like ken's back: I have my episodes where something sets it off, it herniates to some degree, and I can't do anything but lay in bed and try to resist taking muscle relaxants.  The lower back is just chronically sore, with certain activities making it more painful than most others.

             

            I'd assume you have your stretches and exercises for it.  Assuming they help keep it in check, my experience is that running doesn't overly tax the lower back.  (Well, unless you're running trails and either have to do jumps or fall a lot.)

             

             

            The best thing you can do is get your workplace ergonomics (if you sit at a desk) and/or your footwear (if you're on your feet a lot) sussed.

            “Everything you need is already inside.” -- Bill Bowerman

              For me, having a PT teach me about posture was the key to resolving lower back issues. I also learned some basic stretches to release muscle spasms when they happen.

                ymmv: I'm seeing a physical therapist next week. My strength training, which I push a little too hard sometimes, probably played a role this time. I need some professional advice on strength training, and I want to add some safe but effective core training to the mix.

                 

                That aside, it seems like these major episodes hit me every 10 years. I'll be sure to mark my calendar for 2022. Yay.

                 

                Ken: You mentioned weight, and I think that's an important point. There's nothing that will keep me fit like running, because there's nothing that I enjoy doing as much. And I'm betting daily running is a lot less stressful on the back than an extra 20 pounds.


                A Saucy Wench

                  I have chronic L4/L5 issues but not as serious as yours.  No one has ever even suggested surgery for mine yet.  Mine largely manifests as hamstring pain from nerve compression.

                   

                  I had decent luck with PT getting it to a manageable state although honestly for running the thing that did the best is something the PT did NOT want me to do.  Rowing.  My PT was pretty adamant about avoiding forward bending as much as possible (rowing, cycling, hills, sitting)  and focusing on extension and strengthening. 

                   

                  Like you, running more reduced my pain.....as long as I ran slowly, but as soon as I ran hard I would run into trouble.  I would train fine, actually hit some of my highest mileage weeks during the peak of this but always racing would get me.  At about 75% through any race the pain would start.  First in the hamstrings and then the next day I would really feel it in my back.    On a shorter harder races my hamstring would totally freak like I had pulled it and I would mostly have to stop running (once I  had a good diagnosis and knew it was nerve I would be able to finish the race but I would have to slow waaaaaaay down)  On longer races it would manifest more as the muscle would just stop working....like a hamstring bonk.   After Boston everyone else is hobbling around with sore quads and I was hobbling around with killer low back pain.

                   

                  Came home and as a "recovery" exercise got on the rower and after 2 minutes my back couldnt take it and thats when I decided it wasnt back muscle strength as much as stamina that was my problem.  Once I built it up to 30 minutes of continuous hard rowing without pain I rarely had nerve issues or at least it pushed off until much much later. 

                   

                  I'm in the process of building it up again.  I had to stop rowing when I injured my hand last year and I was lazy about getting back at it.  I can tell.

                   

                  MTA: Also converting to a treadmill desk was helpful...something I am once again lazy about as mine is a total rig job that I have to remove to actually run on the TM

                  I have become Death, the destroyer of electronic gadgets

                   

                  "When I got too tired to run anymore I just pretended I wasnt tired and kept running anyway" - dd, age 7

                    I have a long history of back injuries. It seems to be a genetic thing, my back just isn't all it should be. At least two previous L5 disc prolapses, and I scored the hat trick late last month.

                     

                    This one was especially nasty -- narrowly avoided emergency surgery when it looked like the prolapse was compressing some vital nerve roots. Fortunately it's resolving itself. The doctor said my MRI practically screams SURGERY, but my symptoms suggest that it's better to watch and wait.

                     

                    I told the doctor -- an ortho surgeon -- that giving up running was not an option. I expected some pushback, but he was actualy pretty relaxed about giving me the green light to start ramping up my mileage again. If it's not causing pain (and in fact running actually REDUCES my pain) then there's no need to stop.

                     

                    More to the point, he agreed that there's no cut-and-dried link between running and degenerative disc disease. Yes, it might contribute to osteoarthritis, especially 20 or 25 years down the line. Or it might not. Or it may not matter by then if stem-cell therapy or some other solution is available. Or I might get hit by a truck next week. C'est la vie.

                     

                    So screw it. I have a 10K to train for, and life is short.

                     

                    Anyway, I'm curious: Has anyone else here dealt with chronic back problems, especially ones involving disc prolapse? How has it affected you, and has it prompted you to change or cut your running?

                     

                    I might yet choose surgery someday -- if the benefits outweigh the costs. Has anyone else gone that route for disc problems, and what was the recovery like?

                     

                    Didn't see a thread about this on the forums yet, and I know that back problems affect a lot of people, so I'm curious to hear from others here!

                    Disc issue is something you should not take lightly.   After all, that's pretty much what makes human a human (biped).  I didn't know my last lumber disc was "fused" (was the term the chiropractor told me) to my hip bone years ago.  I don't know if that's the reason but, every time I fall asleep on a couch, my back spasms.  Yeah, I should have learnt a lesson, shouldn't I?  So I haven't had any "serious" back issue but it seems to pop out here and there.  

                     

                    It seems like you are in a good hand with professional advice.  All I can share is a few stories; I ran my recent PR of 20:06 for 5k a few years back.  The week before that race, well, I slept on a couch and my back went.  The week leading up to that race, I tried everything I could to "keep doing something that won't hurt my back."  So mainly stationary bike--did light interval that way, etc.  I would stand in the shower and, I'm not sure if it helped or not but, knowing it's the muscle thing, not the disc issue, took cold shower hitting my lower back area--it wasn't much fun!!  Then heat pad at night.  I was pacing this young lady I was coaching at the time so I went to the race anyways and, I had a hell of a time warming-up and, as we did some strides, after the halfway into the first one, I stepped off and said I just couldn't do it.  So I told her that I'd start anyway but I might step off after a while.  Well, what do you know, it turned out to be my recent PR!!  I have a general rule of thumb; if it doesn't hurt running, I'll do it.  May not be a good professional advice; but seems to have worked with me for the last 40 years of running.

                     

                    This is not a well-known story but Salazar's high school coach told me that he had a bad back and he had to wear braces.  Perhaps his funny running style may have come from that but the point is; he seems to have had some back issue and yet ran alright.  You do need to be cautious about it, but over-pampering is not my cup of tea.

                      I had decent luck with PT getting it to a manageable state although honestly for running the thing that did the best is something the PT did NOT want me to do.  Rowing.  My PT was pretty adamant about avoiding forward bending as much as possible (rowing, cycling, hills, sitting)  and focusing on extension and strengthening. 

                       

                      If there's one thing about back injuries, it's that no two are the same. That's exactly why my doctor looked at the freakshow on my MRI, then talked with my about my actual symptoms, and sent me on my way.

                       

                      But personally, even thinking about doing rows at the gym makes my back hurt!

                       

                      I'm also on a drug called Gabapentin, an anti-seizure drug that's effective against nerve pain. Non-narcotic, non-addictive, and it doesn't lower my IQ my 60 points the way Vicodin did. It really cuts the referred nerve pain in my leg, and I can stay on it until my body re-absorbs the ejected disc material that's causing the pain.


                      A Saucy Wench

                        If there's one thing about back injuries, it's that no two are the same. That's exactly why my doctor looked at the freakshow on my MRI, then talked with my about my actual symptoms, and sent me on my way.

                         

                        But personally, even thinking about doing rows at the gym makes my back hurt!

                         

                        I'm also on a drug called Gabapentin, an anti-seizure drug that's effective against nerve pain. Non-narcotic, non-addictive, and it doesn't lower my IQ my 60 points the way Vicodin did. It really cuts the referred nerve pain in my leg, and I can stay on it until my body re-absorbs the ejected disc material that's causing the pain.

                         Believe me the first day I rowed again it WAS excruciating. 

                        I have become Death, the destroyer of electronic gadgets

                         

                        "When I got too tired to run anymore I just pretended I wasnt tired and kept running anyway" - dd, age 7

                        JML


                          I herniated a disk in my back quite badly about 8 years ago (I was not an active runner at the time).  The shooting pains and muscle spasms were quite painful, and I was told by my surgeon that that MRI clearly indicated surgery (micro-discectomy) .   I had several friends who has similar surgery with less than stellar results so I wanted to try the non-surgical route.  The surgeon reluctantly agreed to let me try a non-surgical approach as long as we continued to monitor the symptoms.  He (and I) were very concerned about permanent nerve damage.  I embarked on a program of  physical therapy / acupuncture / chiropractic care that eventually coaxed my disc and surrounding muscles back to health.  I was able to return to running with no side effects and am currently on track to log 1600 miles this year.  My advice:

                          -          Listen to your symptoms and consult with your doctor often

                          -          Be willing to try to different approaches.  I finally found the right combination that worked for me but it took some trial and error over an 8 month period.

                          -          Expect setbacks.  I stupidly re-aggravated my back several times during recovery by pushing my limits too soon.

                          -          Once you are on the road to recovery, make your core as strong as possible.  I do a variety of planks as often as possible.  I think that this exercise has had an excellent effect on stabilizing my core and keeping my back strong and limber.

                          -          If someone asks you for help moving, offer to find them a mover. 

                           

                          Good luck. 

                           

                          Jon

                           2014 goals: run a bunch....race some.....repeat...

                            -          Listen to your symptoms and consult with your doctor often

                            -          Be willing to try to different approaches.  I finally found the right combination that worked for me but it took some trial and error over an 8 month period.

                            -          Expect setbacks.  I stupidly re-aggravated my back several times during recovery by pushing my limits too soon.

                            -          Once you are on the road to recovery, make your core as strong as possible.  I do a variety of planks as often as possible.  I think that this exercise has had an excellent effect on stabilizing my core and keeping my back strong and limber.

                            -          If someone asks you for help moving, offer to find them a mover. 

                             

                            Good luck. 

                             

                            Jon

                             

                            The main thing I want out of the PT is guidance on some very serious core-strength training. I do planks, crunches, etc. 2-3 times a week, but I know that I can kick it up a couple of levels and get much better results.

                             

                            I just need to make sure that I'm not doing something that will make my spine pop out of my body.

                             

                            And yeah, I've done my last move without hiring somebody else to do the dirty work. Not worth landing in the ER over stupid stuff like that.

                              The main thing I want out of the PT is guidance on some very serious core-strength training. I do planks, crunches, etc. 2-3 times a week, but I know that I can kick it up a couple of levels and get much better results.

                               

                              I just need to make sure that I'm not doing something that will make my spine pop out of my body.

                               

                              And yeah, I've done my last move without hiring somebody else to do the dirty work. Not worth landing in the ER over stupid stuff like that.

                               

                              You know what?  When I used to have those disc herniation episodes, what brought it on as often as not was something very benign (a lot of times I didn't even know what brought it on).  I remember one time bending over to remove the small trash bag from the bathroom wastebasket (weighed less than a pound) and my back going out for a few days.   I don't know why it doesn't happen anymore.  I certainly don't religiously do core excercises though I do planks when I can remember to do them.  I think it's kind of like a turned ankle.  Seems to me that once you roll your ankle the first time it is REALLY easy to do it again.  The ligaments are stretched the first time and can't hold the joint stable until they completely heal.  Every time you have a back episode (or roll your ankle again) you set that healing process back again and the disc gets re-injured.  It takes a very long time for ligaments to heal.  

                                You know what?  When I used to have those disc herniation episodes, what brought it on as often as not was something very benign (a lot of times I didn't even know what brought it on).  I remember one time bending over to remove the small trash bag from the bathroom wastebasket (weighed less than a pound) and my back going out for a few days.   I don't know why it doesn't happen anymore.  I certainly don't religiously do core excercises though I do planks when I can remember to do them.  I think it's kind of like a turned ankle.  Seems to me that once you roll your ankle the first time it is REALLY easy to do it again.  The ligaments are stretched the first time and can't hold the joint stable until they completely heal.  Every time you have a back episode (or roll your ankle again) you set that healing process back again and the disc gets re-injured.  It takes a very long time for ligaments to heal.  

                                 

                                 

                                I hear  ya. I remember putting my back out one time picking up an EMPTY laundry basket. Another time it was leaning over the sink to look in the mirror. The last time -- just before Thanksgiving, when I actually herniated the disc again -- leaning over to turn off a lamp was the trigger.

                                 

                                The truth is that those are probably last-straw situations. Maybe I was lifting heavy stuff the week before, or doing squats with too much weight, and I didn't feel a thing at the time. But that got me 99.9 percent of the way to my next episode.

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