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Chronic lower back injury: I need to get to the bottom of this.

Saturday, February 12, 2011 by  
Filed under Daily Blog

Chronic Lower Back Pain.

Chronic Lower Back Pain.

I’m pretty frustrated this morning. Yesterday I added 10 more pounds to my deadlift, and during the second-to-last working set my lower back came apart yet again. 🙁

I’ve had lower back issues most of my adult life, and when I really get up there in weight for squats and deads it seems like I’m playing Russian Roulette. I really don’t think the issue is muscular: the pain is always in the exact same spot, and it’s impossible to reach the area through massaging or anything like that. Even when my back is “fine”, doing stuff that requires lots of light bending over (like gardening) always makes my lower back ache.

I went to a chiropractor when I was in my early 20s for sciatic nerve pain, and after a year of “curative” treatment I feel the only relief on my back was a much lighter wallet. I think I’m going to see my regular doctor about this chronic issue. I’d love to know exactly what’s going on, and I think with x-rays and/or MRIs he’ll be able to provide that information.

I know my form is solid, there’s just something wrong with my back. This has been going on for years, and I’m really sick of it.

Yesterday afternoon when the incident happened I knew I’d aggravated the injury, but it didn’t make me hit the floor like it has sometimes in the past. So I finished my workout, and thought it was one of the milder incidents. Well, last night I got up from my chair to go to bed and could barely walk! It didn’t hurt much at all while I was sitting, but when I stood up? Oh, man…

This morning the pain is a little better, but there’s no way I am going to be able to go mountain biking today. The weather is absolutely perfect, and I was so looking forward to spending the day out on the trails. I have not missed a workout or cardio session in six week and I don’t want to break the streak, so I’m going to try to get a cardio session in on the recumbent bike this afternoon. The weather will be equally as beautiful tomorrow, so hopefully my back will make a speedy recovery and I can hit the trails then.

I’m frustrated right now, but I need to stay positive and figure this out!

As for squats and deadlifts, it seems like every time I get up around the weights I’m using now this injury resurfaces with increasing regularity. It kills me to say it (deadlifts are my absolute favorite exercise), but I think I’m going to have to avoid those two lifts until I figure out what’s going on.

John Stone Fitness Comments

16 Responses to “Chronic lower back injury: I need to get to the bottom of this.”
  1. I get your frustration. On one of my CT scans, they noticed I had Spondylolysis, which is a deformed L5 vertebrae. It makes me nervous.

    A couple of years ago I’d worked up to clean and pressing my body weight, which made me quite happy as it had been a long term goal. But one work out as I was doing the push press, my back cracked loudly and I felt that stinger feeling. After that, my low back would make this weird popping noise that I think was the cracked vertebra moving around. Most of the times it wasn’t painful, but at times it would bother me.

    I’ve had to change how I work out. I took some time off of heavy stuff and have nearly stopped Oly style lifts. I’ve gradually worked my way back up to my old DL weights.

    Hope you figure out what’s wrong.

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    • Thanks, Andy. Hearing a cracked vertebra moving around would definitely be disconcerting, to say the least. I’m glad you’re able to at least deadlift again.

      I’m anxious to find out what’s wrong with my back. Then I can figure out (with my doctor, of course) the best way to address the problem.

      It sucks when you have to avoid exercises that you love doing. I’m hopeful that whatever we find deadlifts and squats will be part of my future. Permanently giving those two exercises up would really suck.

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  2. Hi John,

    As you know, I have a congenital birth defect – spinal canal stenosis , which is narrowing of the nerve canal at L5 – I currently also have 1 compacted and 2 prolapsed discs all around lumbar 5 . So I appreciate the frustration of lifting with lower back pain . (I’m now training on a 4 day split btw)

    I can offer 3 bits of advice . Firstly as you have already said, go see your Doctor, don’t second guess your own problems , see a professional . The internet is great and you and your friends will no doubt try and self diagnose – it’s not helpful ! Chiropractors are OK, but till you have had that CT scan or MRI you will not really know what the problem is (so I’m not sure you can actually treat it till you know what’s wrong).

    Second is stretching – you know this stuff already, however dont just do it when your lifting .. I am unable to walk without 2 sessions of yoga a day – you need to really try and get some deep muscle stretching and breathing going on – It’s the only thing bar medication which truly makes a difference to me .

    And finally is – your gonna hate this one – REST – do not keep pushing that problem area, find alternative’s .. As MannishBoy says let things heal ….

    Hope you manage to get a diagnosis soon, as that’s your real start to recovery. All the best . Phil

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    • Thanks Phil.

      I am stretching every evening with some good exercises that forum member Ludvig78 sent me. They seemed to be helping, until yesterday. I’ll continue to do them anyway. I’ve noticed better flexibility since I started doing them.

      I’m definitely going to my doctor.

      Finally, I’m going to lay off the squats and deads until we figure out what’s going on. I can’t continue letting this happen. It’s not only very painful, I don’t want to risk making something bad worse.

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    • Phil, my back aches (a little) when I mountain bike under normal circumstances. I’m sure it’s related.

      I had a good 45-minute indoor cardio session today, but there’s no way I could have handled even the smallest bumps. 🙁

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  3. John,
    Where exactly is the pain? what spot? Does it get better when you extend/hyperextend your back either one or several times in a row? DO you feel any tightness? Is there anything you do that seems to relieve the pain?

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    • The pain is in the small of my back, centered with a slight bias to the right. There’s no tingling, and no pain below that area (no pain in my legs or buttocks). When I first get up from a chair the pain and stiffness is so bad I can barely move, but as I move around it quickly reduces in severity. Yes, it feels very tight. When I’m sitting or lying on my back I can barely tell there’s an issue. It seems to be exasperated by downward pressure on the spine.

      I was able to do 45 minutes of pretty intense cardio today with no issues.

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      • the reason I ask is because I have a physical therapy background. I’m glad that you are seeing your physician. A qualified physical therapist would also do the trick. From what you’re saying, it doesn’t sound like a ruptured disc or anything involving neurological structures, which is a good thing. when you say downward pressure on the spine, do you mean basically when you’re standing and/or loading the back with any weight that causes a vertical compressive force?

        If lying down on your back reduced the pain, what about lying down on your stomach?

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        • Yes, exactly: standing when I’m injured hurts a lot. Squats and deads are what cause the injury to re-surface.

          When I’m uninjured walking around doesn’t hurt, but long mountain biking sessions and even weeding in the garden makes my lower back ache (it’s annoying but tolerable–nothing like the pain when I re-injure it like I did yesterday).

          When I’m injured like this lying on my back or stomach takes most of the pain away. Sitting, too.

          I appreciate your learned input!

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  4. I constantly have to deal with sciatic nerve/piriformis syndrome.

    The things that help me most:
    -Get a foam roller and roll out every night. Some people roll out before workouts too. Basically it is like a massage. It feels awesome, helps my recovery, and prevents my back from getting tight/sore. Best $20 I ever spent.
    -Stretches daily
    -Nerve flossing if it starts getting tight
    This video has the usual stretches and a little about nerve flossing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tFtUgS69rPk
    -Getting good sleep and avoiding stress

    Hope this helps you out. I haaaaaate my sciatic nerve pain but by listening to my body and learning little moves here and there to relax/release it I have been able to recover from episodes in a few days most of the time. Preventing them from occurring in the first place is easier and more important.

    I also make sure that I do squats and deads with PERFECT FORM only, and I aim for explosiveness instead of grinding out slow reps. For awhile I was pushing it on deads at the expense of form because I loved upping my weight… Ended up with the worst sciatic bout in a long time, it messed up my whole CNS and I ended up getting shingles. So yeah, know when to take it easy too.

    Someone recently told me about “sacro wedge” things you can lay on to release your sacrum and help align your hips and back better. I haven’t tried this yet but might get one next time I’m having pain.

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    • It’s funny, I used to have sciatica when I was much younger, but that’s not been an issue for more than a decade.

      I have a foam roller, and I like how it feels so I continue to use it, but it doesn’t seem to help with this issue (I’ve been using it for years).

      I’ve been doing daily stretching, I get plenty of sleep and all that sort of thing. This injury has been reoccurring for many years no matter what I try. So that’s why I’m going to stop screwing around with trying to figure it out and just go to the doctor so he can take a look with his fancy machines. :p

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  5. Sounds like an inflamed bulging disc. Diagnosis fits because with rest over time the inflammation goes down and pain goes away. Let me guess — you haven’t had any issues with your back recently? If so, likely the anti-inflammatories you were on for your risk also helped your back. If the disc continues to give you problems, there is a very simple surgery now where they shave down the disc just enough so that it’s not pressing on the nerve (which is causes the pain). It sounds like severe surgery but I know lots of people who have had it and it is outpatient, typically a one inch scar and IMMEDIATE relief, never to have the issue recur, and very little downside. You’ll be able to do everything to do now only better without pain.

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    • I’d read that a bulging disc usually causes sort of an “electric” pain, often radiating down through the buttocks and into the leg? That’s not been the case with me. It’s more of a clamping pain at the small of my back.

      If does turn out to be a herniated disc, I imagine that will show up pretty clearly in the x-rays or MRIs. It’s good to know there’s a relatively minor surgical procedure that can provide some relief. I almost hope that it is something definitive like a bulging disc.

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