Back Pain: How To Get Back in the Gym (Safely) Within 48 Hours

Last Saturday I was working out (lifting something heavy in an awkward position) and I felt some pain in my low back. It wasn’t excruciating, it just felt like something was pinching. I continued to work out, even though I know I shouldn’t have, and the pain gradually worsened. When the workout was over, that’s when the pain hit. I could not stand up straight without the pinching feeling on my left side and I knew immediately that my pain was associated with a disc. I had no pain going down the back of my legs which was relieving to me, but I knew I had a small disc injury and that’s what the pinching was and the reason I couldn’t stand up straight. I stopped my workout and went home to ice my back. The only position that felt ok was laying flat on the couch and as soon as I sat up or stood up the pinching sensation returned. I tried to remember everything that all my patients had said about disc pain and everything that I learned in the classes that I had taken about disc issues, but when you are going through the pain yourself, it’s hard to concentrate on anything else but what you are experiencing.

The next morning was even worse! I went to get out of bed and I could not stand up straight at all. My husband had to get out of bed to help me walk, that was when I knew for a fact that I had a disc injury.

I am fortunate enough to be a physical therapist and work with a great team of physical therapists, so on Monday I started to perform treatment on myself and receive treatment from my co workers. On Wednesday, I was completely back to the gym and performing the workouts like I had before.

There are a few things that I want everyone to take from this:

  1. It is normal for a disc injury to feel worse in the morning. The best thing to do is to keep moving. Your disc fill up with fluid as you sleep and if you have one of them that is injured, the overfilled disc will obviously hurt worse due to the extra weight of it pinching on the nerve.
  2. Do not stretch! It is common to think that since your back feels so tight that the best thing to do would be to stretch the tightness out of it. The pain and stiffness that you are feeling is an inflamed nerve and the last thing we want to do is over stretch nerves. One thing you can do however is a nerve glide or neurodynamics. See a PT for more information on how to perform these.
  3. It will get better! There’s a high percentage of discs healing themselves. Your body is designed to heal itself. The best thing you can do is see PT or healthcare provider to help educate you on the proper environment you need for the disc to obtain optimal healing.
  4. You don’t have to quit. Many people think that just because they have been diagnosed with a “disc herniation” or a “disc bulge” that it means they cannot exercise or lift anything again. This is completely opposite. I exercised every day that my back was hurting, I just did everything in a modified way. One of the best things you CAN do is exercise. Exercise will provide increased blood flow which will aid in healing and it will also help strengthen your core to diminish the possibility of a re injury.

The take home message should be: If you do experience anything like this, don’t panic, see a healthcare provider and we will be able to help you return to doing the things you love again!

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Ashley Hornsby, MPT