What a Herniated Disc Taught me about Building a Better Body

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Herniated DiscHerniated disc.

Two words that completely changed my life.

Two words that changed the way I train, the way I eat, and the way I function.

Two words that basically taught me the importance of building a better body.

Like every experience, whether good or bad, there was something to be learned from this one – a lesson to be engraved deep inside me, never to be forgotten…

Here’s my story…

How did it all happen?

There is a long list of events that led to the day my world was flipped upside down.

Physically speaking, I’ve put my body through a lot over the course of my lifetime. I’ve been a sports fanatic, playing every sport from basketball to wrestling growing up. I snowboarded, mountain biked, boxed and travelled the world to train Muay Thai (for fun, of course).

On top of all that, I was in the weight room. Constantly. Trying new forms of training. Playing around with different equipment. Constantly experimenting.

Nothing unusual for a kid growing up.

Kind of.

The month was March of 2011.

We were on the ball court playing an intense game of 3 on 3. I dribbled left, crossed to the right and took it hard to the bucket.

BAM!

Something felt wrong. REALLY wrong.

My lower back started tightening up. Really fast. I kept playing (never do this) because I didn’t think that much of it.

Huge mistake.

Within minutes I was dragging myself off the court. I couldn’t bend over without having the feeling of someone stabbing me in the back. I had never felt anything like that in my life.

I somehow made it home.

I struggled to shower. I couldn’t brush my teeth because I couldn’t bend over to pick up the toothbrush. I struggled to even get into bed (kind of a funny scene now that I think back).

Everything that I thought was easy suddenly became the most difficult thing in the world.

I was forced to take time off work because I couldn’t get out of bed (literally).

I went to see the doctor and, after practically begging for some sort of analysis, I finally got some results.

I had a herniated disc.

CT Scan

CT Scan Results

For those who don’t know what a herniated disc is, just think of it as the most painful thing in the world. Here’s a little overview from FamilyDoctor.org:

Your spine (backbone) is made up of vertebrae (bones) and intervertebral discs. The discs are like soft cushions between the bones of the spine. They let you move your backbone.

The word “herniate” (say: her-nee-ate) means to bulge or to stick out. Sometimes this is called a ruptured or slipped disk. Herniated disks are most common in the lumbar spine — the lower part of your backbone, between the bottom of your ribs and your hips.

When a disc between two bones in the spine ruptures, it presses on the nerves around the backbone causing intense pain.

[Here’s a more detailed overview]

So over the next couple of months I was out of commission.

Resting. Rehabilitating. Massaging.

And…thinking.

I had a lot of time to think.

How did I get to this point? What went wrong?

I’m young. I’m energetic. I’m constantly training and keeping myself fit and active. I focus on eating the right foods and getting a good night’s rest.

How did I fuck this up?

The realization slowly crept up on me…

All these years I’ve been constantly putting my body through stress. I’ve never stopped to think about what cumulative effect all these activities were having on my body.

Winter sports. Summer sports. Weight room.

That’s fine.

But when combined with poor postural habits, constant sitting, zero soft tissue work, inadequate training methods, and a boat load of other factors, that’s when trouble came about.

All these things were wreaking havoc on my body and I didn’t even know it.

Until, one day, my body finally had enough.

And broke down.

Here’s the thing…

We live in a world of extremes. We don’t understand the term ‘balance’ anymore. We lack it. It’s as if it doesn’t even exist.

We are constantly eating (consuming), but we never give our bodies time to digest and use the food.

We are constantly training, but we never give our bodies the rest and care it needs.

These imbalances don’t happen over night.

No way.

They accumulate. They just kind of slowly build up. They creep up on you.

Months and even years of bad habits will create these imbalances (my friend Elliot Hulse calls them muscle viruses) and cause your body to break down.

So ever since that unfortunate day on the ball court, I’ve had a different perspective.

I’ve been focused on regaining that balance.

The balance between my stress and rested states.

The balance between my fed and fasted states.

I’ve incorporated lots of soft tissue work into my routine to remove tension from my body.

I am constantly stretching my back, allowing my spine to lengthen and my discs to breathe.

I now listen to my body. I let it tell me what it knows. I read into every signal.

I’m doing everything I can to bring myself back to 100%.

To this day (and probably for the rest of my life) I will live with a discomfort in my back (best case scenario). I will be limited in things I can do (I haven’t done squats or deadlifts in a year). I will have to pass up on activities I otherwise would love to take part in.

But I’ll keep working. I’ll keep fighting to get stronger. I’ll keep pushing to build myself a better body.

And as for the pain…

Well, it will just be there to serve as a constant reminder of just how precious my health really is.

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Comments

  1. Hey Srdjan! This herniated disc thing is a real hell for a sports fan. I actually have one myself, though it seem to disturb me less than your disturb you. Actually I was lucky that my mother always kept me away from weight room when I was a kid. I imagine that you’ve studied a lot of books on the matter, but in case Russia’s doctors differs, I would like to share their recommendation for living with a herniated disc.
    1) No heavy weights while standing. Only bench press. If you really MUST move something heavy (furniture, etc) always wear a supporting belt.
    2) Swim for at least an hour twice a week, it will help you develop back muscles and stretch you spine in the same time
    3) Develop you core intensively with self weight exercises in order two create a so called muscle corset, in order to take most load from the spine to muscles when doing real (not training) activities.
    4) Keep your posture ideal at all time. Especially while sitting, it will compensate most disadvantages of sitting. Plus you will burn additional 50% to 100% the amount of calouries you spend standing\doing\sitting without proper posture.

    • Thanks for the great tips Nikita! I’ve definitely been doing a lot of research on the topic over the past year and I’ve incorporated a lot of different things into my day-to-day and training routines to improve the health of my back. But I’ll have to admit I could be doing a bit more swimming to help the situation. Have you found it to be helpful?

      • Well, I can afford swimming only during summer, when it is possible to swim in lakes, otherwise it take much time and money. But yes, I found it really helpful. Oh, I forgot to mention in the previous comment that they also suggested me to undergo a course of special medical massage twice a year, about 10 sessions in each course.

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