There are few things in this world that I sincerely despise. It does not come naturally for us humans to really despise something unless we have a justified reason. One person may hate taking the subway because they had the worst experience of their life while riding it, or another person may hate storms because they terrified them as children. These things bring unpleasant feelings towards us and therefore we stay away from them. There are also very few things in life that are despised “universally”. I say it like that because there are always those who are the exceptions and for some reason they enjoy being late to work or something odd, but we will leave them to themselves. However, there is one thing that I have yet to find that somebody does not loathe. Injury. Plain and simple, getting injured sucks.
In the middle of August, I (not knowing at the time) herniated a disk in my lumbar between the L4 and L5 vertebra. Shortening the story a bit, I didn’t think it was a serious injury and thought I just pulled something. I tried to train through it and was getting nowhere. The pain was shooting down my leg and was getting worse so I did the one thing CrossFitters hate doing; taking time off completely. After a month of no activity and little improvement, I finally got an MRI to find out what was wrong and then received physical therapy. After weeks of physical therapy, I saw no improvement and was furious. My last resort was my chiropractor back in Knoxville where I attend school. I found almost immediate relief and started the long process of rehabbing and getting my strength back. I wanted to write an article and talk about how I handled this and what I found to work the best, because this can happen to anybody and happens more than we think.
I’ll start off with explaining what a herniated disk is. A herniated disk is when a disk, which is between your vertebra, ruptures and causes the gelatin substance inside the disk to protrude out. This can indeed press against the nerves (most likely the Sciatic), which can cause a pain down the leg. The best way to think of this is holding a jelly donut in your hand and squeezing one side of it, the jelly will shoot out the other side and thus you have a herniated jelly donut 😉 . These injuries can be the result of multiple issues in your back and can happen doing everyday things.
I have learned some general information in dealing with this injury and want to share what I have learned. The first thing that helps the most is seeing a chiropractor. Being adjusted and checked out is very beneficial and especially for CrossFitters. Seeing a chiropractor can help everything get in line and start to function properly. Now seeing the chiropractor will not push your disk back in and fix the problem right there, but it helps muscularly and orthopedicaly. One thing that was hard for me to understand was that it was still possible for me to work out; you just have to scale things back and figure out what movements you can do. I did not do this in the beginning and as a result, my posterior chain became weak and things were not holding as tightly as they should have been in my back. You need to keep moving and keep your posterior chain activated. Body squats and other movements we do help to move our bodies in the natural way they were supposed to and help move things that are out of place into their right place. Don’t get me wrong, taking time off after an injury is a good thing and can be beneficial, but taking too long can start to be detrimental. After a while, our bodies will just get weaker the longer we take off from an injury If you are able to, I recommend getting back to moving and working out soon after the injury. Just be smart about it.
Before we get to working out with this injury, we first need to know the importance of stretching and getting warmed up. A good warm up will never be more important than when you are injured and training. Our muscles pull our hips and lumbar in many different directions. Our quadriceps and hip flexors pull our hips into extension (tilting our hips forward) and our hamstrings pull our hips and lumbar into flexion (tilting our hips backward). Really stretching your hamstrings and quadriceps and hip flexors is vital in getting warmed up and releasing tension on your lumbar.
Now that we are warmed up and are feeling good, what can we do that wont inflame or make our injury worse? There has been the saying in CrossFit dealing with injuries,” if it hurts, don’t do it.” This is true here as well, to a certain degree. You need to understand that you will not be at the level you were before you injured yourself. The importance is that you are moving. PRs or doing the prescribed weight in a WOD should not be your goals. I would stick to body weight movements in the beginning. Squats, pushups, and pull ups are always good places to start. For a while, I was doing push ups, sit ups and pull ups everyday. I also rowed a lot, but with correct form and keeping my back straight and core tight. NO sit-ups or putting your body into flexion, which happens when you bend forward and not engaging your lumbar. So sit ups, toes to bar, bending down to touch your toes are out of the question for now. Stay away from all flexion as much as possible. We all know the WOD “Cindy”, it’s a great one to keep in mind. As long as the pull-ups are strict. Doing all movements strict is important to rebuild your strength and to protect your lumbar. Core strength is very important with a back injury, but our core is not just our abs. Our core is abdominals, lumbar, glutes, hip flexors and more. It is important in every movement you do to keep your core engaged. I also did a lot of plank holds to get my core stronger. It definitely gets frustrating during injury and rehabilitation because you’ll want to do more and more, but you need to stick to your limits. Whenever I wanted to do more intense work outs, I just had to remember that slow and steady is the way to go during an injury, especially a back injury.
I am still on the road to recovery, but I have come a long way. With the physical therapy and chiropractor appointments and lots of Advil, I am slowly gaining my strength back. It’s taken a lot of patience and just figuring out what I can and cannot do, but it’s the best way to deal with an injury. I hope that nobody will need to read this because they injured themselves, but it is here if it does happen and I hope it helps.