Recovering from herniated disc | Uphill Athlete

Recovering from herniated disc

  • Creator
  • #14398

    Three weeks ago I ran my first ultra (56 km) with the help of two UA custom training plans (highly recommended!). Training went really well, and I felt strong throughout the race–even managed a top-20 finish. Then, a day or two after the race, I tweaked my back. Didn’t think much of it at the time, but after two weeks of steadily increasing pain through my left leg, I got an MRI that revealed a pretty badly bulging/herniated L5/S1 disc that was pushing against my sciatic nerve. An epidural shot relieved most of the pain, and now I’m resting and waiting to start rehab.

    My question: do I have any hope of returning to ultra running and mountaineering (or even moderately long trail running) after this kind of injury? I’m 38, and before getting hurt I thought I was in the best shape of my life. Aerobic fitness was great, and I had been doing a ton of core and hip strengthening/mobility work as part of my UA training plan. I don’t know if the race was just a little too much for my body to handle, or if the timing of the disc injury was purely coincidental. Either way, I’m determined to get back into some kind of training eventually–just want to know what my prospects might be.

    I’ll consult with my doctor too of course, but there’s a lot of wisdom and experience in this forum, and I’d really appreciate any thoughts or guidance. Thanks so much.

  • Inactive
    Anonymous on #14414

    That’s really a bummer. While coincidence can’t be ruled out it seems likely that you were pretty fatigued from the race and and the core stabilizer muscles like the transverse abdominus which gets used a lot in running couldn’t do its job when you applied some load to your spine. I’m certainly no back expert but will try to get one to weigh in on this.


    rockpatelmd on #14418

    Hi there. First off congrats on the race. That’s a great accomplishment. I am a Spine surgeon as well as an athlete who suffered from a herniated disc. Your presentation is classic as are the symptoms. The general thinking is that after symptoms resolve or if they don’t, six weeks post operatively, it is ok to resume activities. It is recommended that you slowly transition back and with any reoccurrence of symptoms you stop. All patients who have had a herniated disc have a five percent chance of a recurrent herniation. I recommend getting your core as strong as possible and using good lifting techniques. Cross training with less impact activities such as biking and swimming is great. As stated earlier I had a herniated disc with a resultant weak quad. Since I have rehabbed I have returned to running and climbing. I take care of many collegiate and professional athletes and they all return back to sport. You will be fine. Good luck and I hope this helps.

    mdrichardson on #14425

    That helps a lot–thank you! And Scott, the information and support you provide in this forum is really invaluable. Can’t tell you how much I appreciate what you’re doing here. I hope I can get myself healed and back on a UA training plan soon!

    arhab on #14427

    Thanks for the reoly to Richard’s post. Since three weeks I have a herniated C4/C5 disc for which I’m treated by a manual therapist. It slowly seems to improve, but I still have pain and weakness in the muscles at the shoulder and top of the upper arm.

    When would be a good time to start with Scott’s killer core routine? Do I have to wait until the pain is gone or can I start and if something hurts, stop?

    (Also interesting is that since I have this my resting heart rate is 20-25 beats above normal…..)



    Anonymous on #14539

    I herniated a disk after resuming training too quickly after pulling back due to plantar fascitis. I’m nearly 100% now, so maybe you can get something from my story.

    Injury: After resuming activity from plantar fascitis, I continued high impact routines that involved weighted jump squats. Presumably, from pre-fatigue ramping back to normal activity and due to how the load is distributed when doing kettlebell jump squats, I blew out my back and had total numbness in my left quad for 6-8 weeks.

    Initial Treatment: US healthcare sucks (no offense to the doc in the thread, it’s insurance’s fault not yours) so I always seek alternative options. Going with this logic, I got a subscription to a chiro service. I think it’s a little cooky on the ‘alt medicine’ side for a lot of things, but for a back issue I thought I would try. After two treatments I regained sensation in my quad.

    Long-Term: I began doing SarahBeth’s deep hip flexibility routine which focuses heavily on glutes, as well as see a chiro once a week. This, compounded with more standard yoga practice than pre-injury, has resulted in almost total recovery. However, I do feel my hips/sciatic area starting to tighten if I fall off the bandwagon for a bit. I also shifted any jump squats to weight-vest-only, since poor ‘goblet squat’ form in later sets probably injured me in the first place. After a rescue carryout a few weeks ago I felt symptoms starting to creep back, but I was able to immediately rectify them. Now my strength is almost back to what it was, and my runs are back to 2h fasted (they were 3 before any injuries like 6 months ago).

    Good luck!

    Anonymous on #15024

    You really need to seek professional medical advice for your specific injury. All we can do here is provide very broad brush suggestions. In your case it would be: DO NOT TRAIN THROUGH PAIN WHENIT INVOLVES DISC ISSUES. You risk doing further damage.


    geraldkrahn321 on #25141

    Please take care of yourself.

    geraldkrahn321 on #25142

    Do consider a health expert who will give you proper advice that will be beneficial to you. You can also ask the experts from The Health Exchange Agency who help you to take the proper health advice and suggest you some plans like medicare supplement plan G which will help you to improve your physical fitness.

    mdrichardson on #25193

    Quick update to my original post: I’m now eight months out from my back injury. Hit some bumps along the way during recovery (including a bout of plantar fascitis when I started running again–the reverse of what happened to @adamsc), but now I’m feeling better than ever. For anyone who’s going through something similar, I strongly recommend reading everything you can find by Dr. Stuart McGill. He has fixed many backs that were much worse than mine, and his stuff worked wonders for me. I’m not a doctor, and of course YMMV. Just hoping to point others in the direction of an expert who might be able to help.

    brian on #25194

    Another great resource is or follow their IG. My best resource is talking to and visiting my physical therapist when something doesn’t feel right.

    Glad to hear you all were able to work through the injury and return better than before 🙂

    I had two herniated discs from an acute injury (tire flip), and I decided (along with massive input from my physical therapist and surgeon) the best option for me at that time, from that injury was surgery to remove the material. That’s not always the ideal option, so make sure you get lots of input and weigh your options.

    Surgery in mid April of ’17 and back to running a 35 mile OCR in Tahoe by Oct ’17. Thankfully I already had decently developed core stabilizers (thanks to TRX core circuits) so rehab was pretty easy; just SLOWLY load the tissues when you return to running and plyo.

Viewing 10 replies - 1 through 10 (of 10 total)
  • The forum ‘General Training Discussion’ is closed to new topics and replies.