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Old 12-07-2008, 04:56 PM   #1
Joseph Shreckhise
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herniated disc

I've recently got my brother into Crossfit but he has a a recurring problem with a disc in his c-spine. This makes me aprehensive to suggest doing much over head such as pull-ups, presses, OH squats etc. Can anyone with a PT background give me some advice here. I'm sure there might be some exercises that would irritate his neck through compression of that disc and I don't particularly want to experiment with them. I'm assuming heavy back squats are probably not the thing to do as the bar will be sitting on his c-spine? Also are there some exercise he can do to strengthen his upper back (rhomboids and traps maybe) to prevent flare-ups? Thanks

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Old 12-11-2008, 10:56 AM   #2
Ganine Vanalst
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Re: herniated disc

I have a herniated disk and disk degeneration c4-c5; it caused me a lot of problems when I first started CrossFit. I was in a sh*t load of pain and had to quit a new job because I couldn't move my right arm and had numbness in my hand and fingers; it felt like I had a pinched nerve. I think it was a bad combination of CrossFit and a new job that required a lot of repetitive movements at a high pace. And when I thought it was getting better, I pulled a muscle in my neck doing pullups.

My theory of what happened with me is this - I was aware that I had a disk herniation many years ago and I don't think about it. I have adapted to it and unconsciously have formed habits in the way I hold by neck, sleep, etc, so as to not irritate it. I suspect as a result of these unconscious habits/adaptations I have developed muscular imbalances/weaknesses in my upper back/neck. I started CrossFit at an affiliate and one of the first group classes I participated in was a heavy day where I went to failure on overhead presses and push presses. In retrospect I think this was a mistake. My disk herniation hadn't bothered me in years only because I adapted all my movements to compensate, but the overhead presses combined with many of the repetitive movements of my new job clearly irritated something. When I pulled the muscle in my neck doing pullups I suspect it was because my neck muscles were overly tight and ripe for injury as a result of the pain from the pinched nerve/herniation (even though the acute phase of the pain had passed). I think when you have imbalances you risk a domino effect with one thing triggering another. In your brothers case I think he can help mitigate a lot of potential problems by going very slow. As his brother you have an obligation to make him go slow so he doesn't hurt himself, and at the same time you have an obligation to tease him mercilessly for being a

My solution was to do Starting Strength; I added weight VERY slowly to allow the supporting ligaments, muscles, etc to gradually strengthen. I pay very close attention to form. So far so good - no flare ups of the herniation/pinched nerve. I am NOT a PT, but if your brother wants to do CrossFit I would suggest to your brother to do the same as I. Build very gradually; even if you think you can handle more weight DONT. Allow all the supporting structures around his cervical spine to strenghten gradually and provide a better base of support for the overhead lifts. It will also allow for increasing flexibility and give him some early indications if something is irritating his cervical condition and then he could back off a bit.

As for the bar irritating his cervical spine, there are two methods (hotly debated) of holding the bar: low bar vs. high bar. Mark Rippetoe (Starting Strength) advocates the low bar method and this method would bring the bar down lower on your brothers back and off his cervical spine. The low bar method might be a good compromise for him. The draw back to this method is many Olympic coaches would argue that this method does not translate well to Olympic lifts and they advocate the high bar method. Depending on your brothers goals and injuries/abilities he might want to try both. The high bar does not particulary bother my neck, but it might your brothers.
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Old 12-16-2008, 10:27 AM   #3
Jerry Maestas
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Re: herniated disc

Yup, I have lumbar fusion, L5 S1, and have two more bulging discs above that. I have managed to work my way up to a 325 lb deadlift and can do every WOD that has been posted in the last 8 months. So, it is key to just take it slow and keep the form good. Build up the muscles so that no more structural damage is done, and they will begin to feel better in no time. I love how I am feeling now!
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Old 12-16-2008, 10:45 AM   #4
Joseph Shreckhise
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Re: herniated disc

Thanks for the advice guys. His neck is actually feeling great right now much to his suprise and hes been Crossfitting about 4-5 days a week for about 3 weeks. I think the **** load of push-ups he has been doing has been enough to help strengthen his upper back and not hurt his neck.

I think Starting Strength would probably be great for someone of his limited athletic background however I think he might get more health benefits from losing weight. What do you think about slowly introducing some OH stuff into skill development and warm-up and after strengthening his upper back shoulders etc incorporating them into his WODs?

I'll have to check out some stuff on the low bar position as well.

Its good to hear that a guy with fused vertabrae has built up the strength to consistently perform the WOD, way to work!

Thanks again for sharing your experience and insight!
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