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Exercises Movements, technique & proper execution

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Old 10-29-2003, 01:46 PM   #1
Neill S. Occhiogrosso
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About 18 months ago I started to experience back pain, and I was eventually diagnosed with two bulging and degenerated discs (L4-L5 and L5-S1, for the more technical). Bulging can heal, but disc degeneration is permanent.

Most of the core CrossFit exercises (squats, deadlifts, push-presses and cleans, to name a few) are off limits to me, by advice of several doctors, physical therapists and trainers.

Many people in the fitness community like to swear by deadlifts and similar exercises as a cure for back problems. With all due respect, I think that theory is rediculous. I have yet to see a single study that showed positive effects of heavy lifting on already injured backs.

I've struggled to find an exercise routine that doesn't aggravate my condition, but nevertheless makes me stronger, leaner, more muscular and more fit. Does anybody have any advice?
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Old 10-29-2003, 02:59 PM   #2
Patrick Johnston
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I have a herniated disc at L4/L5. I have for about 10 years. I am quite sure that I also have some degeneration as well. Upon MRI, it is quite a sight to see. I should also note that my father is a spine surgeon (who has had something like 3 discectomies). He is also 60 years old and does ALL of the CrossFit exercises, as do I. Of course, there is occasional discomfort and there are times when the pain really flairs up. However, this happens without CrossFit and in my experience and in my father's experience and opinion, the pain and degeneration are not worsened by, but rather improve with exercise. Yes, even the exercises you mention.

I am not going to tell you what to do. I will only submit to you that my father and I both do CrossFit and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. All the activity does both of our backs much more harm than good. We do not avoid any exercises and lifts though we are more conscious of proper form on some lifts; namely the deadlift, C&J (as well as its derivities) and squats.

I guess you might call me and my father "ridiculous" as we do feel that the exercises you mentioned do, when done properly, improve back problems in many if not most cases. Further, I wouldn't hold my breath for any study that shows heavy lifting helping already injured backs. There is no money to be made by such a study. Therefore, no company is going to pay the huge dollars required for such a study (done decently). Keep in mind that much of the lifts you are avoiding are done at far less than max weights most of the time in the CrossFit regimine. When max lifts do come up, as I said we are very cognizant of our form. Our results have been excellent. My dad looks like he's 40. He can kick the snot out of most 20 year olds on the mat. I am in the best shape of my entire life and I have been an athlete since I was a kid.

I hope some of this is food for thought. I wish you all the luck in the world.
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Old 10-29-2003, 03:52 PM   #3
Lynne Pitts
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Neil,
I have a herniated L5-S1, with facet joint deterioration, disc degeneration, and a rotated left pelvic bone which puts constant torque on that joint and surrounding area. I've had it for about 13 years. With that, I've powerlifted competitively, weight trained extensively to include deadlifts, cleans, power snatches, squats, good mornings, and basically every "bad for your back" exercise possible. I'm convinced that the muscular base I have built is protective of the injured area.
There's no doubt that sometimes I just can't do certain movements due to the pain or inflammation; I just work around it. I've gone months without deadlifts and only light squats, but I've always been able to return to the movements.
Like Patrick, I wouldn't presume to tell you what to do. I hope my experience, however, provides you additional food for thought and reassures you that you can indeed, with care and particular attention to good form, work all of the crossfit core exercises and in my experience, they will benefit you greatly.
You may find you need to modify some lifts. For example, before my injury, I deadlifted conventional style. After, I switched to sumo style, which is much easier on the low back. Lately, I use a trap bar, which works the legs more than the sumo but still allows for protecting the back. Feel free to ask if I can answer any specific questions from my situation.

Stretch a lot; ice a lot.

Good luck!
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Old 10-30-2003, 12:07 PM   #4
David Werner
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Neil

I am a disabled veteran, three ruptured disks (same as you plus L3-L4), surgery to remove the ruptures, degenerative disk disease, permanent nerve damage from the resultant scar tissue and some paralyzed muscles in my right leg.

10 years of listening to medical experts left me weak, in constant pain and nearly completely incapacitated. At one point, for several months I could only walk with the aid of a cane. Doctors therapists and trainers by the dozen were completely unable to help.

It was clear to me that as I became weaker the problems were getting worse, so I began working out. I placed a heavy emphasis on strengthening the low back - Deadlifts, Squats, Cleans and Snatches. Being very carefull about increasing the load, and diligent about learning form has kept me from having any serious setbacks. Now, after more than a year of Crossfit and Olympic lifting I am nearly always pain free, am nearly as strong as I was in my prime as a Navy SEAL, and am quite flexible. Being limited to a cane is a distant memory.

In my opinion the medical profession does not understand the human body. That sounds outrageous I know, but how else can you explain a prescription of getting weaker when part of your body becomes unstable. Consider, your disks bulged in the first place because some load or shock was not received with your body in the proper position. This happened either because you didn't know the proper position, or were too weak to hold it under the circumstances. Now that you have some injury proper position is even more critical. So the experts tell us to do nothing to strengthen the area?!! WTF?

The road to strength is not easy, and once injured it is even less so. It is important to do it anyway. You must expend much effort to learn the proper ways to lift and move, you will be punished for lapses of attention. I have found that in spite of all this, practising strength training has brought me much more relief than anything from the medical community. Lynne and Patrick both are exactly right.

It is also fun being strong.

David
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Old 10-30-2003, 01:07 PM   #5
Lynne Pitts
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David,
Now there's a testimony to the power of strength training. I concur wholeheartedly with your assessment. If I'd listened to the medical community, I'd be home in a chair unable to get up. At least I had a great chiropractor who was also an athlete. He understood the value of working around the injury and strengthening the surrounding support apparatus.
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Old 10-30-2003, 02:28 PM   #6
Neill S. Occhiogrosso
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First of all, I have to say how thankful I am for the great responses. They certainly provided food for thought.

Secondly, I hope I didn't offend anybody by using the word "ridiculous". I'm pretty frustrated with my training situation, and with people who have not been injured telling me that I just have to deadlift heavy and I'll get better.

Moving on . . .

Before my injury I spent two months training like I never had before. I embraced all of the "dangerous" lifts, and had results beyond anything in my previous ten years of training. I got leaner, stronger, bigger, and my Jiu-Jitsu performance skyrocketed.

Believe me, I would love to return to "real" training. I'm reluctant (scared) for two reasons:

1) I hurt myself during this period of breakthrough training. I do not think this is a coincidence. I was meticulous about my form, and worked with several (perhaps under-qualified?) trainers.

2) My efforts to train through the injury did not go well. Pain increased every time I performed the exercises in question. I cringe now at the thought of a deadlift.

Again, I'm not trying to argue with anybody on this board. Quite the contrary, I'm looking for a plan to get back to real training, but I am somewhat afraid.
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Old 10-30-2003, 04:14 PM   #7
Robert Wolf
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Neil-

It is alarming how little trainers, and even physical therapists know about training. Minor details in form and techniques execution can make the difference between a movement being pre-habilitative and placing one on the sidelines.


Find a qualified and experienced O-lifting coach, explain your situation. I think it could make quite a difference in the end results.

Keep us posted
Robb
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Old 10-30-2003, 04:50 PM   #8
David Werner
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Neil

After reading your last post it seems likely that you were injured because you were trying so hard. It seems like we can only learn the hard way to listen to our bodies and back off periodicaly. I sure learned the hard way. As you come at this again be patient. You are in this for the rest of your life. Robb and I had many workouts that we "phoned in", didn't feel great so really loafed through the workout. Robb called it intuitive moderation. Contrary to what you would expect backing off seems to really help progress. This subject comes up on the board every so often, but it's important enough to repeat -

You can't go 100% all the time without a mental or physical breakdown.

At age 42 it seems that I can tear up a workout once or twice a week and the others are 80-90%. Once every two or three weeks I can barely make it through. YMMV

Good luck

David
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Old 10-31-2003, 05:44 AM   #9
Lynne Pitts
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Neil,
There were months I couldn't squat or deadlift; as a matter of fact it was over a year before I worked up the courage to d/l. In the meantime, however, I worked around the injury. I didn't quit, but I didn't dive right back in to the same movements that aggravated, if not caused, it in the first place.
For example -lower back work: Reverse hyperextensions (face down, torso on bench/table etc, legs hanging off. Raise legs using glutes/erectors) as well as traditional back raises (aka "hyperextensions"); GENTLE good mornings (knees bent, start with no resistance, then with resistance held in front of you instead of on shoulders). Leg work included extensions/curls (ugh, I know...) front squats, step-ups, etc.

I am not a trained professional...this was my approach. My goal was to keep working out, get as strong as I could in the supporting exercises, and get back to the "good stuff" when I felt ready.

Did I mention ice? ;^)

YMMV...
Lynne
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Old 10-31-2003, 07:25 AM   #10
Alexander Karatis
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Neill,

All advice you received here is excellent. Do try and work around it and do try and listen to your body. Training is a long term, endless process, like climbing up a staircase. Try it at the proper pace and youŽll keep ascending, try to sprint up and your bound to slip and fall.

2 weeks ago I felt like my body was about to cease functioning during training. I tried it on 3 different days, gradually reducing the workload because of the pain then after consulting the board here, took a week off just relaxing. Had I not reduced the workload and stubbornly kept pushing, or had I not rested for a week, I was heading straight toward injury-lane.

Listen to your body.
Work around the problem.
Ease into the exercise. Think of it as peeking around a corner then gradually exposing yourself to take a better look. Intensity will come with confidence, and so will feeling better and stronger.

And as Dave said (Great quote this makes BTW)

«Being strong is fun!»
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