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Why can't I run?

Long story short I had a huge herniation at L5 S1 that was removed 10 weeks ago. I also have spurs, arthritis, degeneration, a bulge at L4-L5 and a tiny extrusion at L3-L4. I keep hearing about people breaking their backs yet they still run. So why am I told it would be a very had idea?


  • Hey NKAY-

    I don't know your entire backstory, but as you've probably heard, running is just about the hardest thing ever on your spine. I am saying this as someone who spent many years doing an average of 80 - 100 miles a week.

    Even with the herniation removed, your back isn't getting any stronger. Why did you herniate?

    With degenerated disc, your back just can't cushion the blows from running, and you risk more of the same.

    I hear there are people who go back to running, even after major operations like fusions. I guess it all depends on who you are, what's wrong with you, etc.

    I've also heard that one of the best ways to insure a return to running is to get abs of steel! The stronger you can make your core muscles, the more they'll protect your spine.

    It is very likely that I'll be needing an ALIF/PLIF very soon, but the doctors think I'll recover very quickly -- back to somewhat vigorous exercise within 3 months, and I could even be cleared to run again 6 months after. I love it and miss it, but after the hell I've been through, I don't know if I can go back.
  • I actually blew out my disc while running. The back pain I experienced was horrific! Then after the MRI he told me, "This has been going on a long time." I remember riding my tri bike training for a half IM being in terrible pain.

    I'm no where near begin able to run, in fact I'm wondering what's going on as my legs are very weak and painful and NOT improving. I can't even contract my quadricep muscle :(
  • ha, I say that because, like everyone else here, I'm not a doctor and can only offer you my experiences.

    Muscle weakness could be the result of a pinched nerve. If you have a bulge at l4/l5, your nerve there might be getting pinched. (look at a dermatome map and see for yourself.)

    If you have weakness or numbness, you absolutely do not want to screw around with anything that might make it worse.
  • Well I actually ran for 4 minutes yesterday and the outside of my left foot(that is already numb) got even more numb if that's possible! I wondered how I was going to continue walking. :( ok.. learned my lesson.

    I have a bulge at l4-l5 and a tiny extrusion at l3-l4. When I asked the ortho at my 6 week follow up if those discs would be a prb he said, no..
  • Nkay, there is not a day that goes by that I don't cry because I miss running and being so carefree and athletic.

    But running when you're comprised by something like this -- honestly -- is just not any fun. You can't lose yourself in the moment, you have to think about everything your body should just be doing naturally -- like where to put your foot, how to hold your toes, etc.

    And sadly, there is something else to keep in mind: As bad as you think you are now, you could always be much, much worse.

    It's so obvious to people who don't run, aren't exercise addicts, etc.: If something hurts, then don't do it! Stop until you feel better.
    (This is the part I've had the most trouble accepting)
    Personally, I have tried almost everything, except for one thing: REST. Ha ha ha, what an easy answer, but I am going to lay off walking, hiking, pilates, even swimming until I can do so without pain or any funkiness.

    It looks like either a fusion or a forimanotomy is in my future. I am scared as hell, but hopeful. I don't know if surgery is imminent for you, too, but look at it this way: being healthy, in shape, and willing to work really hard will all help you get better once you know what you're up against.
  • So how do you know if you will need fusion? My ortho is simply against it(I wonder if it's because his partner is being sued by someone I know) Any how at what point is degeneration far enough to do it? Or any other of the procedures. I too have narrowing, spurs etc like most of you on here.

    It's very comforting knowing that you understand my frustration. When I tell people I hate walking and I miss running they don't understand. I know I have a terrible habit of pushing through pain and THIS is teaching me such a lesson in respecting my body and not beating it to the ground. I KNOW my surgery could have been horrible and for the most part I am better than I was. Thank you for reminding me to be thank flu!!
  • My disc at L5/S1 is practically gone -- it's apparently been battered from years of the two vertebra slapping against it. For me, the problem isn't pain, but a little bit of weakness in muscle reflexes and a slight loss of strength in parts of my leg -- stuff that if you don't address in time can be permanent.

    I have a mild case of spondy, which may be caused by a pars fracture (getting the CT scan results on Monday). If I do have the pars fracture, my spine would likely be too unstable for a smaller surgery. I'm scared as hell of losing out on my passions: you read so many horror stories around these forums, but you have to remind yourself that the people who've had successful surgeries aren't moping around on the web sites, they're out living their lives!
    Patience has been hard for me, because I was so indestructible and pig-headed before. But the thing is, neither one of us got to where we are now overnight, and so the solution isn't going to be overnight, either.

    Don't give up. Even if you hate walking, if you do it briskly enough, you'll get the same mental/hormonal uplift from running. Cycling, too.

    Right now, I am in Day #3 of RESTING. My goal is to continue to rest until nothing hurts -- something any sane person would tell you to do, right?

    Ha, to most "normal" people who don't get running, this sounds like an insane conversation.
    Give yourself a break, both mentally and physically. Remember, in time, you can always regain your fitness. Your spine health…not so much.

    Feel free to DM me if you want to chat more, but hang in there! You have friends here who understand.
  • LA_runner_chick said:
    My disc at L5/S1 is practically gone

    I have a mild case of spondy, which may be caused by a pars fracture
    Sounds like my diagnosis: Spondy, pars fracture, "near bone on bone" at L5/S1, DDD, and moderate spinal stenosis. I have the pain and some of the tingling/weakness that goes into my right hip, down my leg (usually the front of my thigh then the outside of my calf), into the bottom of my foot.

    I just had a discogram with CT and have had the MRI and Xrays. I have tried everything conservative so I have another appointment with the surgeon next week to determine what kind of surgery I need to have. I'm thinking it's going to be fusion, possibly a 360 to stablize the spondy and pars fracture. This will also open everything up so hopefully the tingling, etc will go away.

    Now I hate running but the conversation you are having above is not insane as I have played sports and was, until recently, very active going to the gym. Let me know how yours turns out.

    Single level L5/S1 360 fusion with 6 screws and a rod (10/29/12)
    Diagnosis: Grade 1-2 spondylolithesis, Pars Defect, L5/S1 disc tear anterior and posterior, DDD, spinal stenosis
  • This is a latent comment. I had read the original post, but decided to not comment. Anyway, now I will.

    I used to be an avid runner. In fact, I often compared my history with Forrest Gump. Never ran from coast to coast, but got into it similar to him. It became my escape from life. It was my cure for life. I could endure all kinds of crap at work and then just go run it off! Diet was of no concern, other than getting enough calories that did not either dehydrate me or irritate my bowels.

    It gradually took a toll on my spine and I knew it. There were rare occasions when I could not run because of spinal/nerve pain, but I pushed on through. Medical diagnosis kept me informed however I continued to run.

    Finally, my body said "no more." I was 59. It was not a situation where the pain became debilitating. Instead, it was a situation when my legs would run no more! Literally, I could not make them run!

    Alas, I went through the doctor's appointment (diagnosis and prognosis) and quitely said to myself - I will not give up running no matter what. However, after my two level fusion I have come to realize that physically my body can't do it. I can whine and pine all I want, but it ain't going to change. I have cried "grown man" tears in remorse, yet I still can't run and I SHOULD NOT run. After your procedure only you will know. Doctors give advice. Patients (runners) will know.

    I wish all of you good luck. What I would give for a long, cleansing run!

  • Well I walk now and am on eliptical type machines BUT my legs both of them become numb! I'm not sure what the problem is and I so want to go back to being active like I was. Yes, my surgeon told me running would accelerate my condition. So many people keep telling me that I will run again, and they aren't listening.
  • I think for all of us spineys who are former athletes -- or athletes who, for the time being, have to level off on the activities and the intensity we love -- you have to work with your doctor and listen to your body and keep trying things until you find something that you enjoy and works for you. I know none of us like the thought of losing our hard-earned fitness, but we all need to be mindful of the fact that fitness can be regained, and further damage to our back, and our nerves, can be permanent.
    But I also think it helps to find something that still lets you exert yourself enough to get that "buzz".

    Slightly off topic, but still kinda relevant: nkay, it's so ironic for both of us that we have problems that are typical of people who are older, overweight and sedentary -- I have been seriously committed to health and fitness since I was 18, running for 20 years, etc. It sounds like your path is similar.
    Here's the thing: incidences of major lower back issues are skyrocketing, due to demographics and the crappy American lifestyle. I would think that there is a ton of research going on right now -- not for altruistic reasons, but because there's such a huge financial opportunity for medical device makers. And even from what I know, thanks to new techniques and devices, spinal surgery has changed and improved a lot just in the past ten years. What I'm getting at is you never know when some awesome new treatment is going to come down the pipeline and possibly benefit us.
    Oh please pleas please, take it easy on yourself, both physically and mentally. Stay positive!
  • dilaurodilauro ConnecticutPosts: 9,847
    I was very active until about 40. A good part of my spinal problems were direct results of competitive sports in High School and College, mainly football. I never knew how to take it easy.

    But as I've aged, things have changed.
    15 Years ago, I would doing some light duty jogging
    12 Years ago, it would be a Treadmill and some minor equipment at a gym
    10 Years ago, it was the Elliptical machine
    5 Years ago, nothing due to spinal and joint problems
    Today, only specific types of exercise bikes and my favorite: Walking, land or water

    Yes, we may never been able to do what we did before. Just as we can never return from where we have been in time.
    Instead we adjust. If we can't do it this way or another, we just need to find a way we can do it. Really, it order
    to appreciate the benefits of exercise and healthy living, we dont have many other choices.

    One thing that LA_runner_chick stated intrigued me
    LA_runner_chick said:

    Here's the thing: incidences of major lower back issues are skyrocketing, due to demographics and the crappy American lifestyle. I would think that there is a ton of research going on right now -- not for altruistic reasons, but because there's such a huge financial opportunity for medical device makers. And even from what I know, thanks to new techniques and devices, spinal surgery has changed and improved a lot just in the past ten years. What I'm getting at is you never know when some awesome new treatment is going to come down the pipeline and possibly benefit us.
    My first Lumbar surgery in 1978. NO MRI, it was just myloegrams to diagnose the herniated disc. My hospital stay was 8 days and that was without ANY complications. For the next 4 months I had to wear a total back brace. This was just for
    L4/L5, no fusion, nothing complicated.

    Today, many of those simpler lumbar surgeries can almost be done in one day out in two and back to work in 2 weeks.

    With my first cervical surgery in 1994, I had to wear a hard Philadelphia collar for 6 weeks and could not return to work until the 10th week period. Today many doctors are not having their patients even wear collars... And then they are back driving in 3 weeks!

    Thoracic surgery! Only 5 years ago that was pretty barbaric. They opened your chest, split your breast bone, move one lung out of the way in order to get to one of those discs. And the results were only Iffie at best

    Things have changed and they will continue to change that will make the Aggressive treatment of spinal problems not
    so aggressive. The medical field will come up with new equipment, devices, techniques to make things more reliable and safer. But that still leaves things up to us, to do the right things that we can. The medical field will never be able to do it all.

    Sorry for going a bit off target for this thread, it was just an interest set of statements.
    Ron DiLauro Spine-Health System Administrator
    I am not a medical professional. I comment on personal experiences
    You can email me at: rdilauro@veritashealth.com
  • Damn Ron, I would not have put you one day past 41! I have been mislead. You really are an old fart!

    And what's with the hair? You look just like Jim Croce.

  • LA_runner_chickLLA_runner_chick Posts: 91
    edited 09/20/2012 - 12:58 PM
    and before I begin, the big caveat I AM NOT A DOCTOR I AM NOT A DOCTOR I AM NOT A DOCTOR, check with yours first!

    It's not hardcore cardio, but one of the things that's helped me through this is finding pilates, especially on a Reformer. It's good for your core and stretches you out. But one of the things that I like about it is that it focuses me on what I CAN DO, not what I can't do. I go out for a hike or a long walk, and I can't help but focus on what it used to be like, how I've got to move now to help my back and not aggrevate anything else, but with pilates, I am focusing on the things that work really well -- I'm not strong, but I'm flexible and I'm learning new exercises for my arms and back. It's quiet and gentle and at the end of a session, I feel a sense of accomplishment.

    It really doesn't have to be pilates, just anything that is within your limits and allows you to think about, expand on, and celebrate your strengths rather than mourn your weakness.

    Again, NOT A DOCTOR NOT A DOCTOR NOT A DOCTOR! But I'm sure you can find something that works like this for you.
  • I def am adjusting, mentally I am getting to a place of acceptance. I get weird I'll admit when I watch the Biggest Loser and think holy cow look what they can do at that weight yet I took care of myself my whole life and now I'm here. I've noticed huge loses in my muscles in my legs, they just are gone compared to what I had when I was running. I know based on what I have that future surgery may very well be possible.I hate explaining to people why I don't run anymore, they kind of look at me like.. huh? I'm learning it's a process especially of my soul to keep moving forward.
  • First the spiritual:
    Hard as it may be, try to not compare yourself to anyone else -- including yourself. If you keep mourning what you can't do right now, you will drive yourself crazy and possibly push yourself too hard, and end up hurting yourself more.
    It's so difficult, isn't it? Whenever I see people out running, or running in the park, it just tears me up. If I'm out hiking in the park and a runner passes me, my first instinct is to go running after them. I used to be able to just waste people on climbs. But it's not worth it. It sounds like you, too, have some neuropathy -- do all you can do keep your back from bouncing around.

    As far as your physical weakness -- this may be a long shot, but you might get some relief from orthotics. From what I understand, when a lot of people have the kind of low back problems we have that make some of our muscles not fire 100%, the calves and the ligaments and tendons that affect the shape of your arches get weak, and you may end up suppinating -- you end up with higher arches that don't collapse on impact, so the rest of your foot rolls outward. My podiatrist recommended a pair of over-the-counter orthotics that have a little recessed spot under the big toe, and they help.

    NKAY, feel free to PM me if you want to trade war stories on running, PT, or anything else!
  • Thank you! I think I will take you up on the email chat!
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