How To Herniate A Disc: A Cautionary Tale

Posted by Andrea Lawson in Mobility & Flexibity

The title of this post could have also been, ‘How To Not Listen To Your Body’ or, in my case, ‘How To Not Practice What You Preach…’ But I went with the current title because a herniated disc was what I was left with as a result of me ignoring the warning signs.

Not listening to your body or practicing what you preach is actually really easy to do. I think we can all think of a time when we’ve done it. Especially if you have ever had a goal that you’re working towards, have been under pressure, or have had an underlying desire to achieve something that you think will be great.

It’s easy to get caught up in the result that you want and become completely lost in the process of getting there. Sometimes we get so caught up that we can’t see that we have fallen off course and are steering in a direction far from the one we originally set out for. In some cases we even end up sabotaging that very thing that we’re after.

Sound familiar?

Well I believe that success can mean a lot of different things to different people. Your definition of success is as individual as you are. The same goes for your definition of failure. Most of us tend to spend our days focusing on the things that we’re not doing well, the things that we want more of, the things that could be better, and how we could be doing more of certain things.

In other words…

  • The what ifs
  • The I should’s
  • And the I shouldn’ts

 

All things that can cause a misrepresentation of our reality.

Before I go on, I want to ask you a couple of questions:

  • When was the last time you stepped back and acknowledged everything that you’re doing right, big or small?
  • When was the last time you woke up and just started doing things, without questioning or second-guessing yourself?
  • When was the last time you acknowledged the hard work you put into something you cared about?

 

Now that you’ve answered those questions, I have a story that I’d like to share with you. It’s my own, and it’s a cautionary tale.

As you likely already know I own a business called Balance In Motion. I started with nothing. Literally no money, no business experience, and, at the time, very limited resources for business advice or capital. What I did have was a list of things I wanted to do, but more importantly I had a why.

I was, okay still am, completely obsessed with how the body moves and my passion was to help people solve the puzzle of how to get stronger, develop or improve athleticism, restore movement and strength, or change their body composition. Go Beyond Better is really all I ever wanted to help people do. Fast-forward 8 years later it’s now the mission statement of my company.

I feel incredibly grateful for the opportunity to help people excel at the things that they never thought they’d be able to. I love being an active part of an individual’s recovery, and watching them take their body to levels they never thought possible. I’ve witnessed time-and-time again how getting stronger not only shows people their own potential, but also instills a level of confidence that is unmatched.

Everything I do is with strategy, never compromising the quality of how movement is performed and how strength is earned. A big part of helping my clients achieve their goals is building a well thought out plan, then constantly re-evaluating that plan (and its objective measurements) to ensure that that they’re achieving what they set out to do. This strategy almost always involves regressing or scaling back a program to remove compensations, build proper movement mechanics, and progressively rebuild strength, speed and/or power in a systematic way.

What does any of this have to do with herniating a disc? Keep reading. I’m getting there.

Last year (2015) I had set some pretty substantial strength goals for myself, and also decided that I wanted to do an intensive kettlebell certification, the StrongFirst (or SFG) level 1 certification to exact.

For the first part of the year I gave up barbell training to focus on kettlebell training as I worked towards my StrongFirst certification. After receiving my certification I went back to barbell work, while continuing with kettlebell training. To add more to the mix, I took up squash and continued with my usual amount of running. On top of that my business had grown. And as a result I had more responsibilities and my workdays had become longer. On my off night, which as Saturday at the time, I would try to make time for the friends I didn’t see because of my hectic work and training schedule. More often than I’d like to admit, this would involve some degree of partying… which would leave me spending my Sundays playing catch up  so that I had what I needed done before Monday.

The schedule that I have just mapped out might be similar to yours, just with different variables.

The point that I’m trying to get across here is that we all have responsibilities and things that we want to do. And when something comes up, we have a tendency to adjust our schedule in a way that ends up compromising our health.

For many that means we’re not eating properly, or sacrificing our sleep.

For me it meant that I was not taking enough time to recover.

My training was no longer strategic. I was not objectively monitoring my own progress, nor was I taking the time to address the imbalances that were being created. In other words, I had completely steered myself off track, and as a result was going against my own core values. The warning signs were there, I just ignored them.

I stopped feeling strong, no matter how hard I trained. I no longer making strength gains, in fact I had actually lost strength. My body composition stopped changing as well, despite increasing the amount of load I was lifting. I had lost my appetite. I wasn’t sleeping well. I’m pretty sure my patience was less than awesome, code for I was becoming bitchy. I started exercising for the wrong reasons. And I believed that if I didn’t get my workout in it meant that I wasn’t making time for myself.

I had completely lost myself in an effort to reach my goals.

I know what you may be thinking,”Isn’t exercise a good thing?” And the answer is yes, but only when it’s done properly. The key with exercise is that you need to find the right dose for you, while being respectful of your goals and lifestyle. It is imperative that you appreciate that exercise itself is a stress to your body. The lesson I learned is that you can’t fix stress by adding more stress. It just breaks you down.

I ignored the fact that I was rundown, instead starting a new program in January of 2016. That program was totally different from my previous one, and had me lifting lower weight at an increased volume. I didn’t love everything about the program, so I decided to tailor it by adding in some of my own stuff. An extra day of kettlebell training, running and playing squash on a weekly basis… all while still working out like crazy.

This was the nail in my coffin.

 

Two weeks into January I started feeling chronic tightness in my left glute. The discomfort was different than anything I had ever experienced, and nothing would relieve it. I cut back on my training, but didn’t completely stop and rest, despite the fact I was in pain. Working out had become such a part of my life that not doing it felt foreign to me. All my body needed was a break, but I didn’t give it that.

Not leaving time for recovery caught up with me, big time. I ended up with significant damage to two discs in my lumbar spine. An MRI confirmed that I had full extrusion at L5-S1 16 mm in size that was pressing directly on my S1 nerve root. I also had a bulge at L4-L5. As a result, I couldn’t walk or do much of anything without pain for 5 months.

To add insult to injury, I couldn’t sleep because the pain was more intense at night. I couldn’t sit, for the same reason. And I couldn’t workout or do much of anything for 4 months… all because I didn’t listen to the warning signs and take my own advice.

To help me recover I ended up having to spent over $3k in physiotherapy and athletic therapy; which I will admit was worth every penny. A big shout out to Larissa from Physio Room and Justin from Evolution Sport Therapy. These two amazing people helped me with my recovery and I feel forever grateful for everything they did for me.

Despite the fact that the investment helped me, I think you can appreciate that I would have rather spent that money on something else.

At this point you may be thinking, “Why are you sharing this story with me?” Well I’m not sharing it so that you feel sorry for me, or to detour you from exercising. My mission is rather to help keep you from ending up in a similar (depressed and broken) position.

Exercise should build you up, not break you down. A message that is currently very convoluted on social media, in magazines, on TV, and sadly by many strength coaches and fitness pros.

If you’re going to take one thing away from this post, let it be this: just because you think something will never happen to you doesn’t mean that it won’t. We all fall victim to shitty things sometimes, and there are typically warning signs.

Experiencing pain is one thing, but having your life come to an abrupt haul as result of it is a completely different story.

A fact I now know firsthand.

 

If you have been struggling to reach a goal or are stuck at certain point and can’t seem to get past it, no matter how hard you try. Or have an injury that’s stopping you from doing the things that you want to do, I would love to hear about it. Please send me an email at andrea@balancemotion.com. If there is anything that I learned from my experience its that talking about your problems is the best way to get over them. :)

Thanks for taking the time and reading my story! I hope that it has helped you in some way.

Andrea

 

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