Prolapsed(slipped) disc + sciatica- its finally defeated me

doog442 Posts: 370
edited October 2008 in Road beginners
I suffered a prolapsed disc 2 months ago. Ive since had an epidural injection in the spine that didnt work and am undergoing physio.

Since this happened I have asked doctors / consultants can I carry on cycling / running /golf etc. The consensus was cycling YES the others NO if it hurts afterwards.

The pain got worse so at first I cut out the running- no change. The golf followed- no change, symptons still worsening. Now the the cycling has stopped as a matter of fact my last ride was a 25 miler last weekend and im sure that was the nail in the coffin as this week has been agony. Im on tramadol a painkiller that sends me to somewhere thats quite pleasant but also has nasty side effects and im off work.

Anyone else suffered from this condition and did you find cycling aggravated it or helped it. If you couldnt ride how long was it before you got back in the saddle.

Over the last 6 months ive reached a decent level of 'cycling' fitness and now worried that this will go down the pan quickly at my age (43)


  • I've had a lot of lower back trouble over the years and especially last year, although my problem is compressed lower discs rather than actual prolapsing.

    After an MRI scan a specialist advised against surgery. My saviour has been a chiropractor who I saw initially 3 times a week (obviously at considerable expense!) but who I now only need to see once a month. I get the odd twinge/episode but a couple of diclofenac and a lie down and I'm fine again. (I've taken tramadol before - after a motorbike accident - wow, do they work! Must be the morphine...)

    Anyway, I'm currently up to 60 miles a time on my "long" weekend ride and it's not giving me any problems, although I have my bike(s) set up for a fairly "upright" position.

    Hope you can persevere and get through your problems. Do try chiro if you haven't already, I'm sure some will say it's a load of old tosh but it's worked wonders for me.

    Good luck

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  • clanton
    clanton Posts: 1,289
    Not had personal exprience but the GF of a mate had similar if not quite so severe. After a layoff and physio she is riding mtb again. Good luck!
  • I had a prolapsed disc approx 12 months ago - stoped running and cycling, had physio for a whiie - still have the odd twinge - but doing my core exercises religiously every morning has really helped - now (after 6 months of not doing a lot) I'm back to commuting to work every day and I'll be running a marathon next weekend.

    So yes you will lose fitness but you canget it back again!
  • kevinn123 wrote:
    I had a prolapsed disc approx 12 months ago - stoped running and cycling, had physio for a whiie - still have the odd twinge - but doing my core exercises religiously every morning has really helped - now (after 6 months of not doing a lot) I'm back to commuting to work every day and I'll be running a marathon next weekend.

    So yes you will lose fitness but you canget it back again!

    Briefly, what sort of core exercises do you do each day?

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  • doog442
    doog442 Posts: 370
    thanks for your replies

    kevin thats particulary encouraging that you are doing a marathon after suffering a similar injury,im gutted as my running and cycling were working well together and after years of running i found that the cyling was excellent cardio vascular exercise and was really improving my endurance when running.

    im kind of stuck in the NHS system of treatment at the moment, although the physio is being paid for by my work as the injury happened at work.

    bc chiro is something i will certainly consider
  • Andy140
    Andy140 Posts: 130
    I also suffered a prolapsed disc at the end of Dec last year - MRI showed wear and rear between 4th & 5th vertebra and prominent protrusion at this level which caused pressure on the L4 nerve (hurt like hell!).

    Had few days of work but kept as mobile as possible, some physio and core exercises, stretching, and the situation eased so resumed cycling. I do take care and ensure I have breaks and stretch on longer bike rides (40-60 mile) and so far so good. Back to daily 17 mile round trip commute and was able to complete 100 miles for Macmillan Bike ride in July.

    Will not try impact exercise i.e. running, as I do not want to push my luck - quite content with cycling 90 - 130 miles a week.

    Sympathise with your current situation, but things can improve - good luck.
  • I suffered a bad sprain of the back muscles in the lumbar region in early June, have been taking diclofenac upto three times a day since. I had a go at commuting on my bike after the accident and time off work, to see if it might lightly stretch the damaged region and hopefully aid recovery.

    Unfortunately, if anything, a week of cycling at a conservative pace seemed to aggrevate things. Consequently, I've had to part from my Felt for almost four months now...

    However, after very lightly brushing a parked car at work a few days back (paint mark that came off, two very monor dents), I need to get the Felt out and give it a go again. The cycling has a noticeable effect on my awakeness in the winter months, as I suffer from seasonal affective disorder.

    Having finally got round to flipping the stem the other day, I'm quite excited about the prospect of cycle commuting again either next week or the one after :D
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  • not gonna do details but i have a catalogue of back issues mechanical,neurological and some inherited including both the issues you refer to. My advice would be bin the running totally. Depending on how stable it is golf maybe a bad idea. I dont walk for more than hour ever and cannot stand still for more than 10-15 minutes without a fortnight of agony to follow. Id secon the chiropractor - i still see min weekly and id also take advice ref stretching and spinal mob ecercises. Whilst i cannot sit in a car for more than 2 hours i can ride my bikes for up top 6 hours. It just has to be done in a slow incremental way. Last year i probably road 1000 miles in total (if that) and this year im over 5000 already including 5 century rides, time trialling,racing,sportives etc. Ive just had to ride little and often with slow progression, changed to riding much smaller gears at high cadence and insure i dont work too hard in the cold or wet. Finally i count 100 revs seated 50 standing when im on a climb because it makes you rest your back and change position. Dont give up. My first ride in October was 5 mins on a turbo, then 7,9,12,15,20,25,30,35,40,45,50,55,60 prior to my first easy road ride. Just make sure you structure it and dont over do it to avoid that boom or bust thing. Also flip your road stem to bring the bars up a little higher and pull the bars back a little. Confort first! I did reduce to a 80 mm stem flipped and a year (and 2 other stems later) im on 100mm stem and did my first 45 mile ride with the stem the right way up this morning without any issues. Baby steps fella, quash the enthusiasm for now and you will be flying by march.
    Good luck! :cry:
  • feel
    feel Posts: 800
    An osteopath and stretching exercises worked for me after years of problems.
    We are born with the dead:
    See, they return, and bring us with them.
  • brother in law had a prolapsed disc, tried everything without success
    eventually had it operated on - think they cut it off , the bit of disc thats sticking out i mean

    he's been playing golf again without bother for ten years, didn't cure the shanks though
  • I have great sympathy for back sufferers, I have two discs out and femoral nerve dysfunction ( no feeling above the knee but below the groin ).

    Up until late 2006 I was swimming 5 miles a week then it all went belly up and I ended up being unable to walk for three weeks during 2007.

    As a result of work by BUPA and the NHS I'm pretty much fixed now and with combined commuting and MTBing I clock up 120+ miles a week.

    The shape of my spine whilst cycling is a benefit, swimming crushes my nerve and gives me sciatica.

    I am no Dr but last year, without exaggeration, took thousands of painkiller before a consultant finally prescribed Lyrica.

    This drug is truly amazing, they won't tell you about it because it costs major £££.

    If you have chronic pain caused by back problems then you need Lyrica.

    It was produced for diabetics and designed to turn off nerval pain receptors in the brain. It takes 7 days to work and when it starts you think you have been cured.

    It will aid recovery, improve your quality of life and make you curse the buggers who gave you cheap painkillers.

    Tramadol works well on its own but only truly comes into its own with a glass of Merlot :shock:

    Go and ask for this.........
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  • doog442
    doog442 Posts: 370
    some excellent replies that fill me with hope . The tramadol doesnt fully get rid of the pain..just distracts me from it.. :lol:

    That lyrica sounds promising, I will see how things pan out on the pain front !
  • hopper1
    hopper1 Posts: 4,389
    I spent years with back problems, caused by being too keen at work, and lifting all the heavy stuff, etc... Usual, symptoms, every now and then, I would aggrevate the disc and spend a couple of weeks regretting it while resting etc...
    Then it ruptured properly! Parallised my right leg at the time!
    MRI scan identifiedit as L4/ L5 area, nice man at the hospital performed a discectomy....
    I woke up a few hours after the op, felt like a new born kid again!
    Doctors orders to stay in bed on my side for 4 days after the op (one pillow), to keep spine as straight as poss....Nurses couldn't keep me in bed (well, maybe if they'd played their cards right! :wink: ).
    I've now had 10 years without problems. Maybe the odd twinge, but that's no big deal. I am more aware of my back now, and do not jeapordise it for anyone.
    I used to run marathons, but this probably accelerated the problem.
    So, I never ran for 9 years, I just started the odd 6 miler recently.
    I ride my road bike or MTB as much as possible and use the gym too.
    Intrusive surgery is a last option and, not for everyone. I'm not too sure about drugs, because they seem to mask the pain, so you don't realise it when you are aggrevating the injury again.
    I really hope you find a way passed this, mate, as I can imagine how you feel right now.
    Stay positive, and rest properly. Support your back, even when you sleep!
    Forget running and golf!
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  • In 1999 I had a very severe double prolapse at L4/L5 and L5/S1 discs.

    After 3 months of agony was operated on by neurosurgeon. Trimmed L4/L5 and left very little. Left the one below alone.

    After 6-8 months of setling down (it took that long for the nerves to recover from being trapped) I was back to sport.

    I still have to be careful and sometimes get muscle spasms and the odd sciatic twinge, but doing the Raid Pyraneen next year, cycle 140 miles a week, play cricket and football and am fitter than I was before the op in 1999.

    Am now 39.

    You have a very common injury and will get over it, so keep patient and hang in there.
  • Never had a prolapsed disk but I suffered terribly with sciatica. 2 years of physio didn't help much and one day it just disappeared. I've had a few points where it's come back for a month or two but thankfully it tends to ease off and disappear again.

    Neither x-rays or the physio could actually see where the nerve was trapped (though my slightly bent spine was a suspect) and it was difficult to treat. I relied on tramadol and diclofenac together for the pain. The good news for me was that I was still able to cycle. In fact, after advice from my physio to put my saddle up a 1cm or so to stretch out the hamstring, being on the bike was one of the few places I was actually comfortable. I found in the hour or so after a ride that the pain wasn't nearly as bad either.
  • found this ...

    from there mainly...

    Segmental rotation

    Best thing the Physio did was to show me how to do these properly

    - just keep plugging away - it may not go away but it will get better
  • This can take a long time to get right. You may hear advice about keeping mobile, which is true to a degree but only as long as you don't hobble, limp etc as this will give you other pains in other areas aswell.
    Personally I would keep away from chiropractors and anyone who gets you in a position where you are on your side with the top leg upwards and they jump on you or some other movement. if you've had this done you'll know the position I mean. The back is not meant for sudden movements like that.
    Lie on your front as much as possible, move around until you feel the need to limp/ hobble and then lie on your front and try to raise your chest off the floor bit by bit. I could only walk for ten yards when this first happened.
    My problem was a bulging disc which gave me pain down the leg into my calf, in my hip, my back and sacro iliac joint.
    Four and a half months off work (this could have been a lot less if I hadn't been given poor advice to begin with) and several months after that gradually building things up mneas that I can now ride 100 miles without any discomfort (apart from the knackered legs, but that's different). I have stopped racquet sports and never ran in the first place.
    As I said it can take a long time, there are no quick fixes, but I would steer away from a discectomy unless the disc is ruptured.
    Hope things work out OK for you.
  • Really interesting reading this. About three months ago I started to get lower back pain which developed into sciatica right down to my ankle. Went to the gp who sent me for x rays which were returned saying there was nothing wrong with me.
    However at the beginning of september the pain became that bad that I returned to the doc and he referred me for physio. I could no longer go to work.
    In the meantime I paid for a session with another local physio who basically said that I had a slipped disc and showed me some extension exercises and showed me how to maintain posture self managing the situation. The exercises which I believe are the Mckenzie ones, did seem to help relieve some of the pain short term. The overall pain symptoms stayed the same. The worst was and still is getting up in the morning. The pain is okay on waking but as soon as I stand up out of bed the pain is excruciating. The only relief is to get into extension position by lying on my front and taking painkillers.
    After waiting another three weeks I went for some physio as referred by Gp. After doing a few tests including a straight leg raise he confirmed that it was a prolapsed disc. This was two weeks ago. He told me to continue the mckenzie exercises and return the following week.
    It is worth mentioning that during this whole time I have made an effort to walk every day and have tried cycling but was scared that it would aggravate it. Sometimes walking is a real effort and quite painful.
    Last week I returned for more physio. Again he tested my progress my doing a straight leg raise which hadn't improved being less than 30degrees. As well as diong the extension exercises he has now given me another one to mobilise the nerve. He mentioned that it was a bad case and if there was no improvement then I would be able to get a MRI scan with a view to surgery, which I really dont want.
    At the moment on the postive side, the pain is getting less severe in my leg and much of its strength has returned. The pain although still bad appears to be centralising again to my lower back. However my straight leg raise remains the same. Getting up in the morning is still hell.
    Like yourself I am worried about the long term and am being a keen cyclist and runner am like a caged animal staying in all the time. Just thought I would share my story and will let you know if I find something that speeds up my recovery. I am still hoping one day I will start making better progress. Fingers crossed.............
  • hopper1
    hopper1 Posts: 4,389
    ashpreston Stop running! The dynamic impact on your spine/ body caused every time your foot hits the floor will not help your situation.
    As I said earlier, I had the discectomy, no options, but it worked for me, straight away. That was ten years ago, when I was a marathon runner. Recently, I started running again, just occasionally, no more than 40 minutes. I only run when I can't cycle, do to the lack of gym facilities at work.
    Your back may be feeling a little better, as the prolapsed disc is probably beginning to heal now, but, once you feel better, don't go running. Stick to the bike, plenty of exercise, without the dynamic impacts caused by striding.
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  • Thanks for advice. I havent ran for ages. like you say the constant impact cant help things heal and it scares me to think that i could do more damage.Can't say that I havent been tempted to have a try though! I know that its just not possible at the moment and am stuck with walking and using stepper machine.
  • hopper1
    hopper1 Posts: 4,389
    Fortunately for me, my most comfortable position was sitting on my Kawasaki ZX9R! :wink:
    Plenty of miles done while awaiting the surgeons scalpel, culminating with a head on crash, 4 days after getting out of hospital, still didn't hurt!!!
    Wrote off the bike and the car!
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  • andy_wrx
    andy_wrx Posts: 3,396
    I burst a disc in December 2004 : L5/S1.
    I didn't realise I'd done it, I just thought I'd pulled something, so I ran a cross-country race on it. This perhaps wasn't the best idea, in retrospect... :shock:

    I went through lots of physio, chiropractic, osteopathy.
    It improved things but I was still in chronic pain. Lots of referred pain all the way down my right leg to my ankle.
    A spinal steroid injection helped temporarily, but only temporarily.
    It's debateable how much the various treatments helped and how much the improvement was simply due to my back setting down.
    It will settle down, but it takes ages, really ages, and is difficult if you're an active type of person (an inactive type of person probably wouldn't have burst their disc in the first place...)

    I tried tentatively to run several times, every couple of months, but it was painful doing it and very bad afterwards, so clearly not a good idea.
    But I found I could cycle pretty well. Did a couple of centuries with my back like this, even though long distance/duration rides did become painful I had to stop and stretch.
    Swimming was OK too, although I found it very dull.

    After 18 months though I had the disc removed and now have an artificial titanium/polypropylene disc.
    This has resulted in me getting back to doing everything again - long car or aircraft journeys are now OK with a couple of ibuprofen, running is OK although I'm sticking to running Halfs as a maximum and will never do another marathon, I do sportives and TT's in a pretty aero position (I think aerobars are great, they take the weight on your elbows rather than straining your back...).
    But even with the replacement disc, my back still isn't back to 'what it was before' : even though I can now do everything again, I'm used to a background level of chronic discomfort. Only when it becomes pain do I reach for the ibu's, but never need anything stronger.
    They said that after the op I should give it two years before I'd get the maximum recovery and they were right, things did improve steadily and slowly. It's now 2 1/2 years post-op, so presumably wht I've got now is where I'll stay.
    I do lots of sciatic nerve stretches and core strengthening exercises, although really should probably do more pilates and core work.

    The disc is a doughnut-cum-hockey-puck shaped thing, filled with gloop of the consistency of toothpaste.
    It's designed to be a shock absorber between the vertebrae and to physically hold them apart, as the nerves for your legs, etc exit the spinal chord through the gaps between the vertebrae.
    You rupture/prolapse/burst the disc by a split forming in the disc wall and the gloop squirting/oozing out.
    The gloop is not designed to be loose in the body, it's a major irritant, your body then goes into something called 'inflammatory cascade' because of this gloop, which you treat with NSAID's like diclophenac.
    But the split in the disc doesn't heal very well as there are no blood vessels going into it, so even if the split heals, it's still weak and you can easily reopen the split, causing more gloop to come out, more inflammation.
    Evenntually the disc will be empty and squashed flat, like an empty balloon : now it can't provide the shock absorbing function any more, and it's also not maintaining the space between the vertebrae, so the nerves coming out between them are pinched, giving the pains down your legs.

    Running or other impact sports are not a good idea at all - you'll squidge even more gloop out of the disc causing inflammation, the vertebrae can actually knock against one oneanother, and the nerves can get pinched.
    Twisting sports like golf or tennis can equally re-spit the disc or pinch the nerves.

    I had a full disc replacement, an alternative is disc removal & fusion, others above have had micro-discectomies where part of the split bit of the disc is removed so it doesn't pinch the nerve.
    But surgery is a radical solution - much better to do the physio's MacKenzie exercises, do the pilates core-strengthening stuff and see if you can't get the disc to heal.
  • Onan
    Onan Posts: 321
    A lot of prolapsed and slipped disks here then. Are these mostly related to other sports or activities, or do any of you reckon cycling might have aggravated or caused your injuries? I've always been told that cycling was about the best sport around for your joints and back.
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  • gavintc
    gavintc Posts: 3,009
    I have a similar complaint. The physio work was working slowly - too slowly for me. I decided to get a sports massage. The guy who I found is a cyclist, understood my problem, give me a cracking massage and some exercises. I have had 2 sessions and can now run again as well as cycle - complete transformation.
  • hopper1
    hopper1 Posts: 4,389
    Onan wrote:
    A lot of prolapsed and slipped disks here then. Are these mostly related to other sports or activities, or do any of you reckon cycling might have aggravated or caused your injuries? I've always been told that cycling was about the best sport around for your joints and back.
    Mine is due to poor lifting kinetics, when I was younger.
    It was aggrevated by running marathons.
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  • doog442
    doog442 Posts: 370
    quick update. Been off work for the last 2 weeks.The physio is through my job and they get the say on whether i should go in. Its been 3 months since i suffered the injury.

    Ive had 5 sessions of physio including acupuncture and no real change. My daily routine is walk/stretch/walk etc including the core exercises ive been given.

    One rather interesting development,yesterday i was advised by my physio to do pelvic floor exercises.....these appear to work in that the pain eases almost instantly but of course returns soon afterwards.

    Im off the tramadol as that is serious stuff with serious side effects and was quite unpleasant ,nurofen plus and paracetamol take the edge off.

    Some good news is that im booked in for an MRI scan this saturday,the bad news is that the consultant cant see me for another 4 weeks to give me the results.

    im seriously hacked off,this injury happened at work yet apart from paying for the physio at £32 a session they have offered no other support and seem quite sure this will change when i take legal advice.
  • andy_wrx
    andy_wrx Posts: 3,396
    Yep, pelvic floor exercises are good.

    Will also come under the description of 'core exercises', increasing core stability so that your inner abdominal muscles are supporting more body weight, rather than sagging and your spine doing it.
    Pilates is frequently recommended as it's very keen on core/pelvic floor stuff.

    The MRI will show what actually is going on in your back. Without it, it's all a bit guesswork based on your symptoms. The treatment you're getting will be the right general treatment, but MRI will show if you need surgical treatment.

    - although that needs to be considered very carefully. My surgeon said I should try everything else first, because therapy treatments like physio/acupuncture/chiropractic/pilates etc could be stopped, you can stop taking drugs and spinal injections will wear off, but surgery is irreversible.

    From my experience, I'm afraid there is no right or wrong answer, no silver bullet solution that will make your back right again, get rid of the chronic pain and give you back your quality of life overnight.
    Start Googling around and you'll come up with all sorts of contradictory information from all sorts of people. There are back injury forums populated with desperate people who've tried the most remarkable things - this forum is just the tip of the iceberg, with some people saying they were right-as-rain after a bit of physio yet others saying they've had years of problems and radical surgery.
    You'll probably be somewhere in between - but everyone's different.

    I do know the sense of frustration and impotence. You go from being physically active and in control of your life to being in pain, restricted movement, can't exercise, can't go to work or social things, etc. And worst you don't know what to do, what's right or wrong, how long things will take, etc.
    Patience is needed I'm afraid, your back will settle down somewhat on it's own, helped in the right direction by the physio exercises.

    Good luck !
  • doog442
    doog442 Posts: 370
    edited October 2008
    thanks or that :D

    in the 3 days since i have been doing pelvic floor exercises i have noticed a massive improvement...i would say that 50% of the pain has gone....ive done a quick bit of research and this may indicate piriformis syndrome rather than a slipped disc....i wonder if this exercise has released the nerve :?: or perhaps im just clutching at straws.

    quite amazing really,feel better today than i have for months.
  • northpole
    northpole Posts: 1,499
    I spent up to 8 months in a great deal of discomfort with my back. I used and continue to use an osteopath. Not 100% convinced but happy enough not to seek other consultants.

    I too was a very keen runner and less so, cyclist. The advice I have received is to say farewell to running for the medium to long term for the reasons stated by others above.

    Cycling and walking are strongly encouraged - cycling only permitted when the back had settled down. I reckon if you go out on your bike with an irritated spine you will only aggravate the injury. Trust me - alot of patience is required!!

    The other form of exercise recommended is Pilates. To my shame I haven't yet taken it up - just can\t find the time of day to fit it in but I am convinced that it is a long term complimentary exercise to accompany cycling.

    Very important when you return to cycling to make sure you do plenty of stretches to prevent the hamstrings pulling on the lower back after a workout.

    The pelvic floor thing is also a regular - lying on back with knees bent at 90 degrees over a seat cushion or bed and deep breathing - apparently it encourages circulation around the discs - which is a good thing!

    My golden rule - if my back is uncomfortable, exercise goes on hold.

    As others have stated above, surgery should be considered only as a last resort and watch out for the consultants who lead you in that direction without exhausting all other avenues. I'm sure there are black and white cases where surgery is essential but most cases it isn't.

    Good luck and try to be patient - I suspect backs free up in their own time frame, encouraged by gentle exercises.

  • doog442 wrote:
    thanks or that :D

    in the 3 days since i have been doing pelvic floor exercises i have noticed a massive improvement...i would say that 50% of the pain has gone....ive done a quick bit of research and this may indicate piriformis syndrome rather than a slipped disc....i wonder if this exercise has released the nerve :?: or perhaps im just clutching at straws.

    quite amazing really,feel better today than i have for months.

    Hi Doog
    could you let me know what your pelvic floor exercises are and what to do? It could be that you are doing the same ones as me but I would like to learn some new ones, especially after reading how they have improved things for you.