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How To Heal a Herniated Disc Guide (Part 1) – Reducing Chronic Pain

How To Heal a Herniated Disc Guide (Part 1) – Reducing Chronic Pain

This post and the follow ups are going to be an overview of how to self treat a herniated disk specifically in the lumbar spine based on my experiences from the past 8 months and advice I’ve had from a wealth of knowledgable health care professionals. This is what worked for me and I hope it helps you too.

[ UPDATE: Here's Part 2 | Here's Part 3 ]

Recovery can be a long journey and will require you to be more self aware when treating your herniated disk be it staying concious of your posture during the day, the effects of medication you’re taking or the effects of specific exercises while you’re performing them.

My Journey

Here’s some background about me and my journey. I was training quite rigourously 5 to 6 times a week and have been training for 6 years at that point mostly doing parkour aka freerunning, but had experience weight lifting and in martial arts. The night before going away to teach a seminar in America I decided to Deadlift, one of my favourite weight lifting exercises ever, and was lifting heavy. My back was straight but my form wasn’t perfect and I felt a slight twinge in my right gluteal or buttock. I attempted to lift the weight again except this time I couldn’t lift it whatsoever and felt the pinching sensation again. No pain at this point. Once teaching the seminar I found my mobility was greatly reduced and tried stretching every day to recover thinking it was the 10 hours of flying. I had some success but I was greatly limited in my physical performance in comparison to the past months.

The week long seminar finishes and it was one of the best experiences in my life, I return home and after one nights sleep find I can’t move. I’m as stiff as a plank. Puzzled by this I try to get out of bed and stretch as I usually do in the morning, again attributing the suddenly wave of immobility to the flight back to London, and as I go to reach over to pick up my stopwatch I feel shooting pains from my glute to my foot on my right leg. This is by far the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced. I’ve sprained ankles. Torn ligaments. Broken bones. Destroyed muscle repeatedly through strength training. Nothing could compare to the pain I experienced and I fell to the floor in that instant. I could barely move but managed to crawl back into bed and was stuck like this for almost two weeks.

After a week of rest I was able to move about once more but again like a plank and experienced duller versions of the shooting pain repeatedly over the course of the next few months. In this time I doubted if I would ever be able to sport again and was even told by a doctor and a physiotherapist that I would not be able to return to my training again and the best I could hope for would be able to live normally possibly swim but certainly no running and definitely no more stretching, being able to touch my toes again (currently I can touch my head to my legs and my hands go well past my toes pain free) or practising my biggest passion of parkour. I was shattered, sank into depression and greatly doubted whether I would be able to do what I love any more which was parkour.

Skip forward to today I am training parkour aka freerunning regularly(an extremely high impact sport), strength train regularly, stretch regularly and even weight train. I do need to build a stronger foundation before I progress to lifting heavy weights again to be safe, 80%-95% of the max weight I could lift, but I can still lift roughly 70% of my max before the injury all pain free.

[ UPDATE November 2012: Recently I just deadlifted the most I have ever have in my entire life by miles. My previous weight when I originally hurt my back was 145kg for 2 repetitions. This month I lifted 160kg for 2 repetitions. Anything is possible!

I entirely place my recovery on the need to practice parkour and be physical again. Not being able to do so in my eyes meant my life would be over and this sink or swim mentality is what drove me to ignore those telling me it couldn't be done and do whatever it took to recover. ]

PKG 8 How To Heal a Herniated Disc Guide (Part 1)   Reducing Chronic Pain

Pain Reduction

Pain reudction and elimination is very important in the early stages of treating a newly herniated disk, obviously because nobody wants to experience pain, but it also allows for the real work to be done by increasing mobility and the possibility of strengthening and corrective exercises. Pain is an indicator that something is wrong and will also be a tool we use in the follow up posts to assure safe and steady progression.

Some symptoms to look out for will be:

Radiating or shooting pain
Muscle spasms and tightness
Numbness and tingling

Some of these are more subtle than others but by making sure you take a concious effort to recognise when these arise you will ensure the fastest possible road to recovery by avoiding creating more trauma to the disk

Ok lets get down to business! Here’s the low down on what is most effective

Resting

college guy sleeping in library How To Heal a Herniated Disc Guide (Part 1)   Reducing Chronic Pain

As simple as it sounds this one is crucial. Your body is going to heal itself as best it can. You will be doing your best to allow it to heal correctly, promote recovery and in the long term strengthen it so you feel no pain but essentially your body still needs to rest. The initial pain you feel will most likely be due to an irritation of either the nerve root or spinal cord itself. Even if nothing is currently causing this you may still experience pain i.e the disk is not irritating the nerve. The biggest solution is rest.

Resting means doing nothing. No work, no sitting, no standing simply laying on your back and doing nothing. You should only do this for as long as it takes for you to be able to become more mobile and move more pain free as the longer you take to recover the more your muscles will atrophy, i.e, become weaker. This can lengthen the time it takes for you to recover as you will need to retrain muscular strength and stability to become strong and support your disk one more. For some perspective it approximately takes 1 to 2 weeks for your muscles to begin toatrophy, i.e weaken, and hopefully you wont be spending this amount of time immobile.

Medication

I am not a big advocate of taking most medications for the simple reason that for the most part they usually don’t treat the root cause of the problem, simply patching you up, and I feel that general practitioners all too often persue this approach by solving a problem with some type of drug.

That being said without the use of certain medication I would’nt have been able to recover as quickly as I have. They can reduce inflammation and relax stiff muscles both of which will increase mobility and allow for the ground work to be prepared for fixing the herniated disk. Here are their many forms

Non Steroidal Anti-Inflammatories

These are what I used to reduce inflammation when initially experimenting with ways to become mobile again. Enough rest would serve the same purpose provided you did absolutely nothing and stayed in bed. I couldn’t do this as I was determined to find a solution through trial and error.

Corticosteroids

Similar to Anti-Inflammatories Corticosteroids will reduce pain and are also used for a number of other injuries. They usually come in the form of a localised injection at the cause of the pain and effects can last for one week to a year but beware as this is not a cure. This approach when alone is always temporary even if the effects last a year and if used must be combined with an appropriate rehabilitation program. The greatest down side to using corticosteroids is that if the effects are longer lasting, i.e 3-6 weeks or even more, you will be truly unable to recognise whether or not the rehabilitation program is working effectively due to the numbing of the pain. Remember we need pain to be an indicator, letting us know if we’re improving or not.

Muscle relaxants

Diazepam or better known as valium is an example of a muscle relaxant and was what I was given in conjunction with anti-inflammatory medication, but I avoided usage. The approach here is to improve mobility and reduce potential neural tension by relaxing muscles. This is temporary as when the muscle relaxant wears off the muscles will restore to their earlier degree of stiffness. There are much more effective and longer lasting methods which will achieve the same effect such as spinal manipulation, myofascial release, heat and stretching.

Painkillers

Codeine is an example of a painkiller and would be used in very extreme cases. Again I stress here that this does not address the root cause of the pain and only treats the symptom.

Heat Therapy

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Heat was an essential part of the initial recovery stages. Using a hot water bottle on my lumbar spine where I herniated my disks allowed the muscles in the area to relax slightly and provide me with greater mobility. At the time all the muscles localised to herniated disk were extremely stiff, e.g erector spinae and quadratus lumborum, a protection mechanism your body uses to ensure you’re unable to enter potentially dangerous ranges of motion and cause the disk to further herniate or protrude further. This being said due to the extreme stiffness I experienced an extreme state of Lordosis and had an elevated hip on my right side, the side I had the shooting pains, which needed to be addressed before an strength work could begin.

Heat will also stimulate blood flow to the area carrying essential nutrients required for recovery.

Being Aware of Posture

This one is crucial. Being mindful of your posture will prevent you from reinjuring yourself. Learning to keep a neutral spine during mundane and repeitive tasks will create good habits and lay some of the foundations necessary for future strength work and minimise injury. Postural awareness is especially key during all future exercises you perform either during your rehabilitation phase or playing a sport. Again, in case you missed it. Postural awareness is key during all future exercises you perform. You must remain cognisant of your posture as often as you can and force good habits. This is important in general, for example not rounding the shoulders at the computer, as this will translate to poor positioning prior to the start of any strength work we do in the future. You will require corrective exercises fixing posture to minimise risk of any future injury and leverage mechnaics to increase the maximum output from you body during th exercises, i.e be stronger.

This is not to say that you will no longer be able to round your back, quite the contrary, it simply means do not enter into positions of high neural tension or positions that create pain.

Spinal Decompression

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Spinal decompression is a method of spinal relief by absoliving the effect that gravity places upon the spine day to day. It can be achieved many ways but traditionally in medical profession will be via inversion therap, haning upside down thereby creating some space between the spinal vertibrae using gravity, or by use of a traction machine such as the drx9000. These methods of treatment are expensive to say the least, often starting from 300 per session, and their effectiveness is still uncertain as there has yet to be enough research on this area yet.

That being said there are ways in which you can perform spinal decrompression yourself.

The first of which is quite simple. Hanging from a bar clasp both hands around the back so that the bar remains under the knuckles of both hands and wrap your thumb around your fingers. Keeping your shoulders retracted and depressed (back and down) simply hang from the back trying to relax.

A second method requires a bosu ball and is slightly less effective. Again quite simply rest prone on the bosu ball placing it on your abdominals keeping your arms out infront of you and relax.

Adjustment exercises and spinal manipulation combined with myofascial release and stretching

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This method has been the most successfull for me in my initial stages of discomfort and recovery as whole. Any spinal adjustments must be performed by a trusted trained therapist. That being said after seeing multiple therapists I had ammassed a collection of effective exercises to combat my herniated disk. Ontop of this I also tried to replicate the manual therap and spinal manipulation they performed upon me, experiementing to find what felt as though it was helping and what wasn’t and even some times making the problem worse. I do not recommend this at all but I must be honest and say that it helped me immensely in the speed of my recovery especially as how expensive the therapies were, I simply couldn’t afford to repeatedly see the best therapists.

These exercises combined with myofascial release techniques and stretching is what greatly enabled me to restore mobility and begin strengtheni ng my core and the rest of my body so this would never happen again.

The main idea here is to not restore yourself to your previous capabilities but to greatly exceed them so that when there is a load on your spine you will be able to cope with it easily and the damaged disk will remain supported. An example of this would be considering your flexibility prior to injury. If you had poor flexibility in your hamstrings and calves when performing any movement in which you would have to bend over, provided you have poor postural awareness and don’t bend at the knees, the load on your lower back would be high and would put you in a possible compromising position as you reach the end range of your hamstrings there would be a greater pull on your lower back. Comparatively speaking if you hamstrings were more flexible there pull on your lower back would be far less even though it is still a compromising position.

When combined with basic strength work you will be undoubtedly able to live day to day without even having to think about your posture constantly.

To return to a sport will require a deeper level of mobility and strength work and as the risk of reinjury is higher. Combined with addressing structural dysfunctions and consistency you will be pain free, at minimal risk and feel super human.

 

Here’s the links to the must read parts:    Herniated Disc Increasing MobilityHerniated Disc Strengthening Exercises

Related Posts:

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  • Sean Carter

    Hey man, seen a lot of your videos on herniated disks. I’ve had a bipolar bulge, mainly felt it on the left side/sciatica. Had a year or so of physio and now getting back to gymnastics. However when I extend my back/or push glutes in I get a crack (like a knuckle or neck crack) in my hip. Any thoughts on how or why his is happening, has this happened to you? I’ve had chiro before and wouldn’t say I’d go back, would rather rehab myself at home/gym. Thanks

  • ecpj29rpt

    hello.. have you tried lumbar traction? i am not sure if lumbar traction is helping me. i hope it’s not making my herniated discs worse.. my problems are just left lower extremity weakness, tingling, weird sensation.. NO pain. can i still avoid surgery? sigh..

  • Garret Merchat-Chambers

    oh my god get too the point!

  • KiKoKuKiMaK

    What happened to you ….you are sick ….

  • Rafael Chavez

    Thanks for the video

  • michael john

    herniated discs do NOT HEAL a bulging disc can though to an extent. a herniated disc means it is completely blown out of the nucleus or wall. surgery is the only way…

  • ElFlamo123

    a herniation will never heal itself, if you have one see a back surgeon not a chiropractor

  • kaith handa

    hello , thanks for the video. i m having back pain from the last 3 month. in my mri it showsL4-L5 ,mild diffuse. and bulge. rest of things are fine.in the morning when i wake up ,i have pain in back. if i stand more than 15 mintue i got pain. while running i feel pain. from the 3 month i stop running, gyming andmartal arts. in normal life i dont have any pain. pl suggest me what should i do? and by TRACTION My pain will be permanantly remove ? age 28 male

  • Elise

    When it comes to taking anti-inflammatory drugs, how long did you take them for and how much did you take? I do not like to take these too often as I have seen people who take them daily become immune to their effects (not to mention what it is doing to their liver and/or kidneys). I always feel so much better when I take the anti-inflamatory drugs and am able to do the stretches and exercises you recommend..but as soon as I stop taking the drugs, the pain and stiffness come back!

  • TheOptimus98

    You are correct. we must kill the bad fat and belly first to get the 6 pack.Listen I heard that most of the celebrities used to follow to kill their belly using this 7 food items.get to know here bit.ly/194Zc09?=fctgf

  • ganherngyih

    I have bulging disc as well for years.Do you believed in the disc will heal itself without spinal decompression? My DC/PT does not..Great video by the way.

  • Navjot Singh

    You’re right. even i was very sad since i workout well for abs but nothing was coming.And I heard that most of the celebrities used to follow to kill their belly using this 7 food items.if you are serious go for it now bit.ly/1dezSK3?=ottep

  • Pragadeesh waran

    Yep I agree. we must kill the bad fat and belly first to get the 6 pack. And My international body building trainer also recommended this 7 food elements to kill your fat belly. you can see it here bit.ly/11ZK8iM?=ldcsw

  • Amit Kumar

    I already told you. i know the bad fat is the reason that stopping 6 pack coming outside even we work out well. Listen to this My international body building trainer also recommended this 7 food elements to kill your fat belly. have a look here bit.ly/16uZICU?=vpcpk

  • Richard ong

    what are the symptoms u experience when u herniated ur lower back??

  • wecook

    Ummm….. what did this guy say?

  • Anu Bose

    by ‘rest’ you mean TOTAL REST like no stairs or bending and all??

  • LucaBlightBadass

    Even if your abs are strong theres other factors like stretch your hip flexors and pecs alot strenghen your glutes and hamstrings and upper back and more than that practise proper posture it will take quite a while, depends how damaged your disc is too.

  • Eric Essebag

    My abs are pretty strong.. However it hurts when I lean back. What’s your advice on that ?

  • Michael Pollini

    Didn’t understand a work he said

  • LucaBlightBadass

    What direction is your bulge sticking out at, you can find out by stretching back or touching your toes or leaning side to side and see which position hurts most. Once you found out leaning to what side hurts you need to strenghen the opposite side to push that disc back in for instance if it hurts most when you bend over and touch your toes it means your lower backs weak and abs are too strong so train that lower back and leave abs, but if you lean back and hurts its your abs what are weak.

  • Alex Figueroa

    Hi James,first of let me say thanks for all the info. But I still have a question for you. I had back surgery for a herniated disc in Jan 2013. Now I want to get back into the gym and deadlift again or should I just give up on squats and deadlifting? is there other exercises that I can do that will give me the same results?

  • SpecVengeance

    Not true, if you strengthen your core and heal the injury, you should be able to do just about anything again.

  • Adrian Pacheco

    i was told that after i got my herniated disc that i should never play competitive basketball again is this true?

  • Naomi Rosa

    Hey I would like to talk to you about my 3 herinations . It’s to long for here so maybe we can email ? Mine is kcano003@fiu.edu My name is Kathii and thank you for the Video

  • iattiladravecz

    we all do :-)

  • iattiladravecz

    Sir you just have a new subscriber:-) :-(

  • Danny Shahouri

    i beg you

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