Besides the usual physical therapy exercises and other stretches, I often find people searching if it is okay to lift weights and do other workouts while injured with a herniated disc. The vast majority of medical professionals will tell you it is not a good idea to strain yourself while injured with a herniated disc.
Working out with a cervical disc herniation is obviously not a good idea. The neck is not something you would want to take any risks on. Not only that, it would be hard to do the vast majority of weight lifting exercises when you have radicular pain in the shoulders and arms. This easily eliminates the bench press, shoulder press, lat pulldown, shrugs….pretty much every exercise you can think of.
What I am going to talk about is how to continue to work out despite having a lumbar disc herniation because this is something I can write about personally as I am currently suffering from a a L5-S1 disc herniation. This injury happened around January for me and just about 1.5 months ago I was able to get back into weight lifting.
My muscles have depleted heavily from my lack of working out. Not only that, I gained a bunch of fat mass because I wasn’t working out and simply eating junk food. Though its not a good idea to lift weights when injured, I did anyway and was very surprised with the results.
For one, I adhered to a strict diet. I started following Lyle Mcdonalds Rapid Fat Loss program which is a very good book. Its basically a scientific approach to crash dieting and it is mainly a detailed protein sparing modified fast. By adhering to this diet I have dropped from 196 pounds to 178 pounds and I am continuing my journey.
The massive drop in weight, in such a short time, has helped me reduce lumbar back pain. The less pressure bearing down on my lower spine the better. It makes even more sense when you see the anatomy of the spine. The L5-S1 disc bears the most pressure.
Now with a lumbar herniated disc it is important to not have to bend over. So in the gym I had to choose my exercises carefully and practice safety at all times. I wear a weight lifting belt really tight around my waist when I workout to prevent my lower back from bending. This also helps keep my core tight a bit which is important for keeping pressure off of the lower spine.
For chest I do the incline bench press. I can’t do decline because that puts pressure on the lower back and is simply something you want to avoid. I also don’t do the flat bench press. With incline bench press you can keep your lower back mostly flat and not have to worry about bending too much. I also have done chest dips and tricep dips while keeping my chest out and spine erect. For back I do the lat pull down machines. These are easy to perform as long as you keep your back straight again.
The tricky part of working out with a herniated disc is finding a way to do the lower body. Now this can be a real pain in the buttocks, literally, because of sciatic pain. Don’t even think about doing squats, and extending your legs with leg extensions or the leg press is out of the question.
What I found worked for me was doing very light lunges and a lot of reps. You can’t expect to have body builder legs but you can at least maintain your mass and endurance by doing 3 sets of 10 with dumbbell lunges or using a barbell.
Working out, despite having a injury with sciatic pain, has allowed me to build strength and lose fat. Also my body image has become better which lightens my mood- which is something very underrated when dealing with a injury. Remember to do what your doctor says and listen to your body.