Updated: Aug 12, 2021
Many people suffer from disk herniation. It seems very common these days. We do not know whether it comes from a bad posture, common injuries, or just because diagnosing it has become more accessible.
In this blog, I want to share my experience with disk herniation, the pain that comes with it, and tips for overcoming challenges that come along with disk herniation.
I want to say that I am not an expert in this field. I have no medical background whatsoever. I want to share my experience with it and hope to help at least one person to feel better after reading this blog.
To understand why we have pain, let's first quickly discuss what is disk herniation.
We all know how the spine looks like. A column made of 33 bone structures, stack on top of each other, called vertebra. In between each vertebra you have a fibrocartilage structure, that connects each vertebra into a slightly movable joint and acting as a shock absorber. This structure is called the intervertebral disk and it consists of two parts. The annulus fibrosis is the outer part of the disk and nucleus pulposus, which is the gel-like substance located inside the disk.
Disk herniation occurs when the outer layer of the disk (annulus fibrosis) gets ruptured, causing the inner substance to pour out and push the nerves running into the spinal cord.
Two main problems occurring from herniation.
1. When the shock absorbers are no longer serving their purpose, the joint becomes unstable. Just like car shock absorbers. If the pressure inside the shock absorbers is gone, the car is never going to be as stable as it was before.
2. Nucleus pulposus is an inflammatory substance, that causes spasms and inflammation of the nerves that are pushing against it. This is the reason why you might have radiating pain from your spine towards a limb. All the nerve roots are located in the spine and inflaming the roots means problems down the chain.
In the pictures below you can clearly see a healthy spine and one with disk herniation.
Disc herniation is a very common diagnosis these days. It is the reason for a lot of pain and discomfort, unease of performing daily activities and enjoying life. I have experienced it for a while now and can say that it is pretty possible to live with it. I am going to share my experience and the tips that I found useful when diagnosed.
Like I said I have been suffering from disk herniation for quite a while, 5 years. There are actually 2 disks that are ruptured in my neck. The ones between C4, C5, and C6 to be precise. It probably happened 5 years ago, in a motorcycle crash and it has gotten worst for the past years, due to a bad posture, heavy and incorrect exercises, and mostly the unawareness of it. I did not know about it until 3 months ago. So, the first advice for you is:
Get an MRI.
I know it can be difficult, especially if you live in countries like Bulgaria, where you have to be approved and the health system is working towards robbing you instead of helping. However, it is worth the 300 leva to have the correct diagnose. If you have the advantage to live in a more developed country, MRI is the best and most precise tool for spinal diagnoses. Once you know exactly where the pain comes from, then you will be able to take the right actions. This brings me to the next piece of advice.
Strengthen the muscles around the area of herniation and improve the posture.
Your body has the ability to regenerate and heal itself. Only if you let it do so. See, once the disk is no longer stable it gets harder for the muscles around that area to support and keep that spine in place. The more load on that joint, the harder it gets to regenerate to its healthy size. The constant movement plus the less blood supply makes the healing process longer. Therefore, I advise you to strengthen the muscles around.
In my case that is the back and the neck. If I strengthen those muscles and improve posture. I am going to allow my spine to stay in a more neutral position, allowing recovery and less pain.
The other very common cause of herniation is at the lower back, causing a common condition called sciatica. It is simple inflammation of the sciatic nerve that runs from the lower back down to the foot, causing sharp radiating pain to the entire leg.
Strengthening the lower back and core as well as learning to stay in a better position with your pelvis is going to allow a more neutral position of the spine and facilitate recovery.
The third piece of advice is to choose exercises wisely
Lower back disk herniation is trickier, simply because there is more load to the disks, as opposed to the neck, However, that does not mean you cannot train. Try and do the exercises that allow you to use those muscles, without loading the entire body.
Less impact of the spine, less load on top of the body, and more stationary moves.
In my case, I figured that I cannot do handstands or overhead presses because that puts a tremendous amount of stress on the vertebra in my neck. However, I can do bouldering and more isolation exercises for my shoulders. I cannot do deadlifts, but I can do all kinds of pull-ups, even muscle-ups. I cannot run or jump much, as that causes a repetitive compression of the disks, but I can swim and walk.
The same rules apply when suffering from sciatica. Swimming is great, as there is no pressure on the lower back. Pull-ups are great, not only because that is going to strengthen your back, but because hanging is going to decompress and lengthen the spine through the vertebra, allowing healing and pain alleviation. Core exercises on the floor are perfect and a must. Laying on the floor is going to remove the stress from the vertebra. Strengthen the core is going to allow you to keep that area more stable and allow recovery.
There are plenty of exercises you can do to help your body alleviate the pain and recover. You just have got to be patient, try different options, and see which works best. There is one thing you should avoid:
Do not stop moving.
The worst decision when suffering from any kind of injury is to stop being active. If you remove the demand of those muscles, joints, and ligaments to function, guess what? Your body is not only not going to recover, but it will start to deteriorate from other places. Find what works for you and keep doing it. Even if that causes you slight pain. This brings me to the fifth piece of advice.
Keep doing what you love.
I recently watched an interview with Ronnie Coleman. He has multiple surgeries on his spine. Almost all his spine is fused. He has multiple disk herniation and a lot of back issues. He keeps training. He keeps doing what he loves even if that causes him pain. And when he was asked why, he replied: There is no greater pain than not doing what you love. It is true. Of course, there are extreme examples but think about one thing that you love to do. Now imagine you cannot do it anymore. You must find a way somehow. You must sacrifice something, whether is comfort, or pain, but if that gives you any sort of meaning to keep living. Go for it.
The last piece of advice is to wait until you get surgery.
Until you tried everything above and even more, do not rush with the surgery. It is very complex; it is expensive and the consequences of it might be bad. if your case is extreme, then consider it. However, ask different doctors and experts for opinions. Meet people with the same conditions. Meet people that have attempted surgeries and then take the decision. But that should be the last choice after you have tried everything above, for at least a year. If there is no other option, it might be worth it, but just know that having hardware in your spine has it side effects.
Disk disease is a common condition nowadays. Doctors keep trying to find solutions. There are so many different cases, some caused by accident, other by poor movement pattern. There is plenty of stuff we can do to battle it and help our body to recover. One is sure. If we are striving to improve our body every day and make it more resilient. It might not only help to recover from injuries faster, but it may also prevent us from getting injured.