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I have an annular tear and a degenerative disc

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  • I have an annular tear and a degenerative disc

    As the title says, I went to an orthopedic clinic today because I had some pretty intense low back pain after Sunday's workout, and I was told I have an annular tear and a degenerative disc.

    Up until two weeks ago I was doing the intermediate 5x5 program. I made it tow week 9 and I was squatting 350x5, deadlifting 350x5, and benching 230x5. I'm 5'11", 225 lb, and 24 years old. During week 8 I started having some low back issues. Mostly tight erectors. The problem got a little worse in week 9 so I decided it was time for a break, and that after this break I would start a 5/3/1 program.

    I took about two weeks off from heavy lifting, mostly doing Olympic barbell complexes with about 50 or 60 pounds, and lots of stretching and core work.

    I decided to return to the heavy weights on Sunday and after my warm up I dove into squats. My progression went as follows...

    bodyweight: 20 reps
    empty bar: 20 reps
    95x 15
    135x 10
    185x 5

    On that last set with 225 lbs on the third rep, when I started coming out of the hole there was a small pop followed by some pretty intense pain in my lower back that shot down my right leg. It was bad enough that I had trouble walking and I knew I had fucked something up. So, I called it a day and went home. It hurt to sit in my truck, it hurt to lay down, it hurt to stand, it hurt to get dressed and undressed, cold and hot therapy did nothing to relieve the pain. I was pretty angry at this point.

    The pain continued Monday, although to a lesser extent, and today it was significantly less but it was still a pain to drive and get dressed.

    The doctor did some xrays and some ROM tests and came to the conclusion that I have an annular tear and a degenerative disc below L5 and above the sacrum. I also have a slightly sideways curved spine.

    He said I should probably stay away from free weight squats and use the smith machine or hack squat machine, since I'm not a competitive weight lifter.

    I'll be on some prescription anti inflammatory drugs for 10 days, and after that he'll give me instruction on how to proceed.

    I know this isn't a huge injury or something really serious, but I feel frail or fragile. He said annular tears don't heal well, and are therefore more prone to happen in the future if you've had one already. Should I really think about staying away from free weight squats? Do any of y'all have degenerative discs? How do you compensate for something like this if you want to be a bodybuilder/power-lifter.

  • #2
    The biggest thing you will want to focus on is your core strength. You're better off doing planks than you are crunches and sit ups. You're looking to stabilize the low back with a stronger core so that in the long term your problems can heal.

    It is also best not to try to make the low back more mobile and flexible. At least not right now. Just stabilize. You will want to also make sure you stretch your hip flexors and hamstrings. PNF stretching is what I do for my low back problem (spondylolethesis) and it seems to be pretty effective.

    Focus on these simple things and you will have no problem doing squats, deadlifts, barbell rows and other big compound movements and continue powerlifting and bodybuilding.

    If you go to a chiropractor do not let them adjust your hips/low back in a twisting fashion. A few chiropractors did this with me for years and I never got much better. When I started seeing my current chiropractor he explained that only made things worse. This is when he told me about stabilizing over flexibility. Since then my back has been great.

    Good luck!

    True Nutrition Discount: SRC745
    *2006 USAPL Washington State Powerlifting Championships- 1st, 14-16 age-148lb class -2nd Men's Open 148lb class
    •2x WABDL Worlds Runner Up - Teens 16-17 165lb
    *Former WABDL Teen 16-17 165lb World Record Bench Holder (Washington state record) of 396.6lbs


    • #3
      Tearing the annulus fibrosus w/ accompanying disc bulge is usually more painful in younger people because the nucleus of the disc is plump. Any type of squat or pull may still hurt if you lumbar spine hinge instead of hip hinge which puts a ton of pressure on the posterior disc - meaning squatting, bending, sitting etc and using the lumbar spine as a hinge point. Look into Stuart Mcgill's stuff, he is the king of low back pathologies.


      • #4
        Thank y'all. I was actually going to ask what the general opinion of Dr. McGill was. He certainly has the experience and education to back up his methods.


        • #5
          I have a badly degenerated lumbar disc and have torn the annulus of the disc above. The onset of the problem was very similar to yours with, started off with minor pain/tightness, gave it a few weeks of, warming up for rack deadlifts and ended up with sharp shooting pan down my leg etc/

          I've come to find what exercises do and don't work, if I manage it properly and limit other activities I find I can squat and deadlift, but only low rep work not volume.

          I now mostly do lunges for my legs, as well as single leg press, curls and extensions. Bi-lateral work just doesn't work the majority of the time, without causing pain after. Experiment and find what works for you. Make friends with a foam roller and baseball to massage your glutes and piriformis.