herniated disc and running

I'm mainly a runner, age 49, been running for decades, used to be better than most but still far from elite. I have been diagnosed (following X-ray and NMR) with herniated disc on my lower spine in Dec 2021.
The old orthopedic who saw me (himself used to compete triathlon) says the ONLY thing he can recommend is specific physio exercise for core strength and mobility. I've discussed these with the physio and I've been doing them very religiously, minimum 15-20min EVERY day now for 7 months. Physio says I'm doing everything very well, and my core is excellent. But the only outcome is that instead of a painful hamstring (whole 2021) I have a painful gluteus.

Amazing is that I can do everything apart from running. Very long cycling or walking, with huge climbing, and I'm absolutely fine.
I also swim regularly, since years, like 2-3 times/week, 40-60min each time, bad swimmer but I just like it, swimming is supposed to do well for everything back related.

Despite being very diligent with physio exercises I still got ZERO improvement.
I also got 3 cortisone injections, absolutely ZERO effect.

I know in some cases, like when the injury limits much what you can do, and everything else has been tried already and did not help, sometimes operations is done.

Anyone here can share stories on herniated disc, with or without operation?
Cheers,

Alberto

Comments

  • singleton
    singleton Posts: 2,523
    I had/have 2 herniated discs and I am back to being able to do most things - although I wouldn’t try to break any power lifting PB’s 😉.

    For me it was time and taking things slowly. I did some core work but nothing like the amount you are talking about. I built up my walking until I could do a slow walk/run and over time I found I could run more and more.

    I would personally advise anyone to think long and hard before back surgery - success rates are not high enough for my liking and many patients are worse afterwards.
  • DeVlaeminck
    DeVlaeminck Posts: 8,893
    edited July 2022
    Yes, it took several years before getting well enough to run again, built up to 10 miles but whether it'd stand up to higher mileage over time I don't know - I actually doubt it would. The thing that did affect it was moving house for my mum and doing a lot of heavy lifting.

    It's now fine for cycling whereas for a while the hamstring would feel tight on longer distance or shorter distance high intensity like chain gangs.


    Edit - when I say built up to 10 miles I didn't really build up that much just spent a few weeks doing shorter runs them thought I'd have a go at 10 miles. Packed up when I tore my calf seeing if I could do a Sub 6 minute mile again.
    [Castle Donington Ladies FC - going up in '22]
  • pep.fermi
    pep.fermi Posts: 381
    edited July 2022
    OK, thanks for sharing your stories.
    But you didn't say: did you have operation, or not? If not, what treatment did you have...?

    I will see a 2nd Dr soon. Not begging for operation but if this is what a Dr suggests, I'll go for it. After all been doing everything religiously and ZERO improvement so far. OK, maybe the core exercises are preventing it to get worse...

    Good thing is that not being able to run I'm doing even more cycling (especially), walking, swimming (always been bad, but hey who care) than ever. Have always loved these but it turns out I love them even more than I knew. Still miss running very badly though.
  • singleton
    singleton Posts: 2,523
    I didn’t have surgery.
    50% chance of it being better
    50% chance of it being worse
    I didn’t like the odds.

    Try resting it for a couple of weeks.
  • imposter2.0
    imposter2.0 Posts: 12,028
    As others have indicated, it might be some time before you are able to run again - if at all. High impact sports and disc problems do not mix well.

    But realistically, if you are looking for detailed running advice, then asking on a cycling forum is probably not ideal...
  • pep.fermi
    pep.fermi Posts: 381
    singleton said:


    50% chance of it being better
    50% chance of it being worse

    wow, 50/50 is indeed very bad.

    I've never rested, in the sense that I've always continued walking swimming cycling, after all neither the Dr nor the physio ever mentioned rest. And walking swimming cycling do NOT cause any symptoms.

    But I've rested from running for several weeks. Then I try again, like 2 miles ultraslow, only a notch faster than walking, not real running but only to probe the situation, and it's always very bad.

    I am discussing this also on running forum.
  • DeVlaeminck
    DeVlaeminck Posts: 8,893
    pep.fermi said:

    OK, thanks for sharing your stories.
    But you didn't say: did you have operation, or not? If not, what treatment did you have...?

    I



    No the consultant said try physio for 12 months after which time I was at the stage where I couldn't run (well I could but it'd play up for days after) but I could cycle (with a bit of hamstring discomfort), walk and I'd heard too many scare stories about operations on discs that I thought I'd live with that. It has continued to improve though. Since doing the exercises I've also not suffered at all with my SI joint which was an occasional thing for about 10 years previously since making a comeback in a one off football tournament.

    Mine was one disc bulge to the side think it's L5-S1 - described in MRI as "significant". I think it was caused by being hit by a car as had hamstring problems since which I put down to scar tissue but now suspect it was disc related.

    At its worst I couldn't walk more than 5 minutes, difficult to get out of bed or stand up from a chair and lost a lot of power - eg couldn't push off with right calf so kind of had to pick the foot up from the knee and hip joint. It was pretty unbearable but thankfully that stage only lasted around a month - how people live with chronic pain like that I don't know.
    [Castle Donington Ladies FC - going up in '22]
  • pep.fermi
    pep.fermi Posts: 381
    edited July 2022
    Thanks a lot, very interesting to read


    No the consultant said try physio for 12 months
    ...
    At its worst I couldn't walk more than 5 minutes, difficult to get out of bed or stand up from a chair

    Wow, I thought my 7 months of physio were pretty extreme, maybe I should reconsider that...
    I'm lined up to see a 2nd Dr...

  • DeVlaeminck
    DeVlaeminck Posts: 8,893
    Yes I mean I couldn't have stuck a year at its worst but thankfully after that month it improved quite quickly to the point it didn't impinge on everyday activities other than sport or lifting things.

    Personally if your issue is wanting to run then I'd play it conservatively - but then running hadn't been my main sport for a long time so pretty easy to shrug my shoulders about not being able to do it to any great level.
    [Castle Donington Ladies FC - going up in '22]
  • Wheelspinner
    Wheelspinner Posts: 6,609
    Back when I was 30-ish, I did a lot of running - 80-100 km a week - in amongst cycling tennis, squash, swimming, golf and occasional basketball/badminton as a team reserve. Busy.

    I had a "major" disc problem with L5 one day after a swim competition, from diving in cold to a 100m butterfly race I was late for.

    10 days in bed unable to get up much at all, just to crawl to the loo basically.

    4 months unable to walk properly, despite relentless Physio, and assessment by all sorts of "experts". Told by a neurosurgeon that I'd probably never return to much of my sporting life, and that surgery was "inevitable" but to be avoided as long as possible. Turns out I have spondylolisthesis at L5/S1, and the discs were already worn out at 30.

    Finally helped by, of all things, a specialist masseur who somehow managed to unlock the mess that was my lower back and get me walking again.

    9 more months of exercise and rehab before I dared venture anywhere near a run course, or tennis court. I jogged two laps on a grass oval one day and thought "that was ok". Went on tennis court and hit balls for 10 minutes with zero attempt to chase anything or hit hard.

    It took a *long time* after that before I was ready to trust my back to cope with the strain of serious exercise, but it eventually came good. Ran my fastest ever 10k road in 34:40 at age 35 and won a regional Open tennis tournament at 36. Golf handicap back into single digits well into my 40s. Played squash competitively till I was about 45 or so.

    At 60+ my back is still manageable now, occasionally gives me trouble, but ease off the effort and get treated and it's ok.

    My neck, not so much. Fractured vertebra there 11 years ago, was convinced that surgery would be beneficial in limiting the neuropathy in my shoulders and arms, but in fact it simply made it (considerably) worse. Agreeing to that procedure is the single worst decision I have ever made in life.

    My advice: do not go anywhere near surgery if the short term aim is (just) to get you running again. In the longer term - i.e. the rest of your life - it will just create more problems for you than it possibly cures in the short term.

    Open One+ BMC TE29 Seven 622SL On One Scandal Cervelo RS
  • pep.fermi
    pep.fermi Posts: 381
    Interesting. Thank you for sharing your story
  • pep.fermi
    pep.fermi Posts: 381
    I know nothing about golf or tennis, but 34:40 10k at age 35 is pretty good.
  • Wheelspinner
    Wheelspinner Posts: 6,609
    Golf and tennis are far harder on your lower back than running.

    I had a brief period where my running speed was really good, because I'd dropped a few extra kg in weight and the difference was huge. Didn't last though.. :-)
    Open One+ BMC TE29 Seven 622SL On One Scandal Cervelo RS
  • singleton
    singleton Posts: 2,523
    You may already know this, so I apologise if I am repeating things.

    When you see a "doctor", remember that a surgeon will always give you the same answer to every problem - surgery.

    Non-surgeons will often give you a range of treatments or options, but if you are referred to a surgeon they will almost always talk up the surgical option - that's their job.
  • Wheelspinner
    Wheelspinner Posts: 6,609
    singleton said:

    You may already know this, so I apologise if I am repeating things.

    When you see a "doctor", remember that a surgeon will always give you the same answer to every problem - surgery.

    Non-surgeons will often give you a range of treatments or options, but if you are referred to a surgeon they will almost always talk up the surgical option - that's their job.

    ^^ True. There's even an adage.. "If you go see a barber, you'll get a haircut"
    Open One+ BMC TE29 Seven 622SL On One Scandal Cervelo RS
  • imposter2.0
    imposter2.0 Posts: 12,028
    singleton said:



    Non-surgeons will often give you a range of treatments or options, but if you are referred to a surgeon they will almost always talk up the surgical option - that's their job.

    I'm sure a lot of surgeons would disagree with that characterisation. Certainly the only time I ever went to see a consultant surgeon (privately, so he would have had a fair bit to gain from recommending surgery), he said surgery was not necessary.

  • daniel_b
    daniel_b Posts: 11,766
    edited July 2022
    I herniated a disc probably 20 years ago now, eventually got it properly treated (Genius back woman Jo McRae in London) back in 2013, and can now do most things normally.

    I did run for a fair bit of time, but I believe it's simply too impactful now, marginally younger than yourself, and my joints are clearly only going to go one way, so for me it's full bore for cycling - easy to train at home on the turbo at lunchtimes, or early mornings, weekend and evening rides when I can, and a commute into work once or twice a week.

    I occasionally consider a run, but so far have always written it off before I try - for me now, loving cycling so much, a setback with my back would be massively impactful to the rest of my life, so for me at least, simply not worth it.

    Good luck on your quest.
    Felt F70 05 (Turbo)
    Marin Palisades Trail 91 and 06
    Scott CR1 SL 12
    Cannondale Synapse Adventure 15 & 16 Di2
    Scott Foil 18
  • So I can supply a very current response to this.

    Since Christmas I've been suffering from severe back pain with sciatica down my right leg. I didn't/wasnt able to walk for 3 months, I basically spent every day either in bed or laying on the sofa. I was fortunate enough to be seen by neurosurgeons (NS for future reference) very early on, mainly because I developed some urinary problems and numbness to the genitals. My MRI showed a significant L5/S1 protrusion. The NS was quite against the idea of surgery, stating research showed that the outcome was the same after 2 years whether you had surgery or not ie the disc will retract. He did recommend nerve root injections given my debilitating symptoms. The injections helped but only temporarily.

    Given my inability to both work and enjoy any social life I opted for surgery. The NS said it was 90% successful which seemed like very good odds. I had the surgery 6 weeks ago. I had relief as soon as I woke from the surgery, it was immediately apparent despite the post op soreness etc. The NS told me the surgery was 100% necessary as the nerve was still significantly compressed.

    6 weeks post op and the only residual symptom is mild numbness to the back of my knee. I have no pain, no residual weakness and am walking entirely normal. I have a lot of rehab ahead of me but I'd rather that than the symptoms I had.

    Not sure if that helps but I've certainly had a very positive experience from opting for surgery. Happy to answer any questions if you want to know any other details
    Bikeauthority.cc
    IG - bikeauthority.cc
  • pep.fermi
    pep.fermi Posts: 381
    Interesting to hear.
    Thanks a lot for sharing your story.
    Just curious: any idea what caused the injury int the first place? I read that often at the moment the disc goes out place, one does not even realize it...
  • I don't think it was one particular event. I had been having mild ( and slowly worsening) symptoms in my leg and back for at least 6 months prior to it all going wrong at Christmas. I imagine it was a result of being too one dimensional as an athlete. Other than an active job my only regular exercise has been cycling for the past 20 years. Within the last 2 years I've been running and going to the gym without any obvious issue however I'd be surprised if my cycling build didn't make me vulnerable to injury like this.

    Bikeauthority.cc
    IG - bikeauthority.cc
  • Sorry, one other thing. Post surgery one of the neurosurgery team was quite adamant that I should be running quite early on in my rehab. As of yet I haven't but I'm certainly aiming to include it as part of my exercise regime. I certainly feel well enough to do a bit of gentle running at the moment.
    Bikeauthority.cc
    IG - bikeauthority.cc