View Full Version : Degenerated discs in low back

Michael Keller
09-20-2004, 12:46 PM
I've been doing weight training, gymnastic exercises and martial arts for almost 30 years now. For the last 6-7 years I have been training around two degenerated discs in my low back. This precludes me from doing anything like squats, deadlifts or any O-lifts. I can do bench and shoulder presses, dips, pull-ups, L-holds, etc. with no problem. I've done a good job of training around my injuries and am in pretty fair shape (I'm 44), but am very limited in the exercises I can do. I also battle knee and shoulder problems on occaison also, but they are not near as severe as the back problem. I am currently doing the CrossFit program modified to what I can do, but I am looking for any suggestions on what I can do instead of squats, deadlifts and other O-lifts that I cannot do. I do tabata and air squats with no problems. How much will my progress be limited by not doing the O-lifts?

Larry Lindenman
09-21-2004, 04:38 AM
Michael, progress is a relative term. At our age, I'm not looking to enter the olympics but looking to increase fitness levels, maintain low bodyfat levels and slow down aging. If you can't do the o-lifts, you can't do them! This thing should be a lifelong pursuit; take it easy, progress slowly, substitute full body movements for the o-lifts, have fun, and be consistant. You might be suprised and build the strength to do the o-lifts. Robb should have some excellent comments regarding rehabbing your back.

David Werner
09-21-2004, 08:17 AM

My back is a mess and has been for about 12 years now. Please read this entire thread http://www.crossfit.com/discus/messages/22/1984.html

Now for some contrarian advice. You can't afford NOT to O-lift. Disks degenerate (assuming no serious bone disease) because of instability, instability is caused by weakness, strength stabilizes the structure and stops progress of degeneration.

Start over very light, master form, get coaching if needed and strengthen your back as if your health depends on it!

Dave Werner

Donald Woodson
09-21-2004, 09:57 AM
Have you guys considered a therapy called Vax-D? I read a little about it, and apparently, it's some kind of machine you lay on which holds your feet stationary while your spine gets gently stretched with an oscillating motion. They say it causes a vacuum between your vertibrae which supposedly draws fluid back into the discs.
I was thinking about mimicking the contraption by tying my feet to a support pole in my basement and laying on a board on top of some dowel rods, and pulling on a rope from another pole.
I also like to hang from my pullup bar and slowly relax my spine, but I can only hang on for so long. Seems to help some though.
But I think I'll be able to stretch my spine for longer periods of time by using my homemade Vax-D contraption.
Whatcha all think?
I do the dead lifts and squats, but not with a lot of weight. I try to make up for it with more reps. Most of the time now, my back is ok.

Michael Keller
09-21-2004, 07:16 PM
Larry and David, thanks for the info and the link. It is much appreciated.:happy: I've been at this a long time, so fortunately I am pretty good at knowing what my body will handle.

My problem came from riding in a car eight hours a day for 12 years and wearing a gunbelt all day (I was a police officer). I worked out continuously and even did a lot of stretching, hyperextensions, etc., but from what the Doc said it was caused by wear and tear over the years from riding. He said he sees the same thing in truckers and cab drivers who ride all day.

Forget the Vax-d. I did it, actually twice the number of treatments that is supposed to heal you. It's a complete sham. Not only did the Chiropractor make me pay up front, after the insurance paid for all the treatments they would not refund my money. I thought about suing them, but it would have cost more in legal fees than I would have gotten back. But it did absolutely NOTHING for me. I've since talked to different Chiropractors and physical therapists and they have all told me that vax-d is just a form of traction and that traction has been proven ineffective in back injuries. The one thing that helps me more than anything is an inversion table. It is made by "hang-ups" and I bought it off the home shopping network for 299.00. It is very high quality and if I get in from work and my back is acting up, a few minutes of hanging upside down does wonders. It's the only thing I've found that helps. It might be just the trick for you to stretch out your back.

Michael Keller
09-21-2004, 07:26 PM
I read through the link you posted--thank you for that. It was excellent. I really would like to try some light DL's and squats, so maybe I will. I've been doing air squats and hindu squats for several years, so maybe it's time. Thanks for the inspiration!

David Werner
09-21-2004, 10:15 PM

Thanks for considering. I've never tried the vax-d but I would have predicted that outcome - getting stronger is the only relief I've ever gotten. Everything else is ineffective or just temporary. Starting over to rehab your back is going to take some commitment and the discipline to set your ego aside. You have to start light and progress slowly, being a real stickler for good form. Kettlebell (or dumbell for Robb and the rest of you KB grouches) swings are also a great rehab tool. As long as your form is great they will strengthen spinal erectors really well.

Feel free to contact me if I can be of any help.

Dave Werner
Crossfit North

Donald Woodson
09-22-2004, 05:02 AM
Thanks guys. I was wondering about the validity of Vax-D. That's why I came up with my homemade version (which I haven't tried). I was also thinking about inversion hanging. For that I was going to try hanging myself up with a deer hoist, which I may still try.
When I was a kid, I tried to play "Batman", by tying a rope to a roof top vent pipe and climbing up the wall. Halfway up the wall the knot slipped and down I went. The resultant X-rays revealed a congenital defect. Doctor said I was missing a bone spur and I'd never be able to participate in any sports, or join the military. Wrong on both counts.
More recently, I drove to the Fla Keys for a diving trip. When I returned home, my back went out. I couldn't stand up straight at all. Could hardly get out of bed. Went to the doctors. They X-rayed me and determined that the only thing they could do is give me drugs and fuse my spine. No way. I finally went to a chiropractor. He also X-rayed me, then he adjusted my back. After a month of not being able to stand up straight, the adjustment seemed like a miracle. Still quite sore for a while, but nevertheless, I could walk again. The chiropractor said I have one degenerated disc, and a "curious gas bubble" in my spine. I immediately thought, "the bends?". Couldn't be that, I followed the charts to a tee, and I would've felt that immediately after my dive. I think the problem was more like what Mike experienced. It was a long drive in my very uncomfortable truck.
Of course the Chiroprator wanted me to continue his treatments long after my recovery, but other than that, he did a great job of getting me back on my feet without cutting me open. Since then, I've been REAL careful with my back.
And Dave, I do agree with you that strengthening the muscles around my spine to keep the pressure off of the discs in the first place is the way to go, so I will start O-lifting, and work on slowly increasing the weight. I haven't had any problems with my back for a while, but remembering how puny I felt, I'll do anything to avoid that again.
Thanks Dave.
Funny side note: The X-ray techs at the hospital started asking me strange questions like, "have you ever experienced any strange and unusual happenings?", and, "do you remember any missing time?". I asked, "what are you talking about?". They said I had some "strange metallic objects" in my neck and back. It was then that I remembered working at a shipyard when a guys wire wheel on his grinder suddenly came apart. I guess some of the wires are still in my back:lol:

Michael Keller
09-22-2004, 04:36 PM
David, thanks again for all your help. I did DL's today, starting out with only 80 lbs and did 2 sets of 8. That felt fine, so I did 3 more sets of 135 lbs. I felt absolutely no pain or tightening, so far, so good for now. I was careful with my form, so I will gradually increase the weight and see what happens.

Brian Hand
09-23-2004, 08:09 PM
The Vax-D is just an oscillating traction device. There are definitely some scammers using it out there - anyone who would double bill can be presumed a scammer - but some people do get results with it. Incidentally Michael, regarding legal fees, if this person has broken the law by billing insurance for a service you paid for, wouldn't the attorney general pursue legal action at no cost to you?

Of course there is no device that will work for everyone but oscillating traction seems to have some merit.

The Vax D has been marketed as a high dollar piece of equipment, as a big investment but a potential gold mine for chiropractors. Other equivalent products are now hitting the market at much lower cost, so the treatments should be available before too long for reasonable prices. That way there doesn't have to be such a huge financial gamble to try the treatment.

I don't know who said traction has been proven ineffective, but traction is sometimes effective for back pain. Inversion is traction. The oscillation does make a difference, the theory is that static traction lets the discs swell, oscillating traction has a pumping effect on the disc. Louie Simmons has been talking about this exact thing with his reverse hyperextention for years. The reverse hyper's therapeutic value is (again, theoretically) in that it supports the spine from below - the pad in the belly - and lets the spine lengthen and contract, pumping fluid through the disc. Many people (me included) see good results. A homemade way to do reverse hypers is just lying across an exercise ball, with the ball resting on a bench or something.

Paul Chek has an article on mercola.com about another exercise that he feels will help pump / fluch the discs - bodyweight squats rounding the back at the bottom. Chek puts it succinctly: if you can't squat, you must! Just food for thought.

Traction, chiropractic adjustments, etc. are fine but they don't really treat the root cause of the problem. Strength, flexibility, and good movement patterns are the things that will give you relief long term. Let pain be your guide, don't do anything that hurts (avoid injury-pain, exertion-pain is okay). Use perfect biomechanics, develop adequate flexibility first, and watch for left-right imbalances!

Michael Keller
09-24-2004, 02:59 PM
Where I live, they won't pursue anything if it isn't major. I even contacted the insurance company involved at the time and they wouldn't even do anything about it, even though they were getting scammed! Amazing, and we wonder why insurance is so high....

Well, I did my second day of DL's, going up to 180 lbs this morning. Feels great so far, so I will continue to gradually increase the #'s. I've been doing strengthening for my back for several years now anyway, but this will hopefully add more muscle to my low back. I'm sure that if I hadn't been working out all this time, I would be in my back would be in much worse shape than it is. Some people I've talked with are amazed I can do what I can, so I guess comparitively speaking, it's not so bad. I'll just keep plugging away and see what happens.