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  1. #1
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    Herniated disc recovery -- when can I ride?

    I'm getting kind of vague answers from my PT on this, so thought I'd throw it out here.

    I herniated a disc six weeks ago. The big symptom was very bad sciatic pain and piriformis spasms. It started to get better after about 4 weeks, with the McKenzie exercises being super-helpful. I have now been off pain killers for two weeks and have only slight piriformis tightness and the occasional tingle if I sit too long or flex too much. My back muscles are still slightly tight on one side and I do not yet have full ROM in flexion although it is improving (I can't touch my toes and getting in/out of a car is a bit awkward).

    I'm pretty sure that in a week's time I am going to be pain free and I am hurting so badly to get back on the bike, even if it's only to ride the flattest of flat trail. However the PT says she thinks the disc is still healing and I should probably stay off for another six weeks or so. I got the impression this was an informed guess.

    What do you guys think? I'm not going to get back on a bike until I feel good about it, and I REALLY don't want to re-injure as this was a truly miserable experience.
    All problems in mountain biking can be solved by going faster, except the ones that are caused by going too fast.

  2. #2
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    Good question!

    I herniated my L4-5 disc in January of 06. I was off the bike for about 8 to 10 weeks.

    My recovery sounds a lot like yours; but the one thing that I did learn is that each back is different, and no two are the same.

    I started with 10 minutes on a trainer and took it very easy and built it up slowly.

    I have a set of exercises that a PT gave me. If I do not do them, I get into trouble.

    Good luck,

    Wayne

  3. #3
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    May I ask what the exercises are?
    All problems in mountain biking can be solved by going faster, except the ones that are caused by going too fast.

  4. #4
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    I had major sciatic pain due to a bulging disc back in 2004. My physiotherapist told me to stay off the bike for 6 weeks. After a couple weeks, I found the physio wasn't helping at all, so I went to a chiro who practices ART (active release) - he said i should be exercising regularily, and to get my ass back on the bike. With his treatments and exercise, I think that is what finally made the pain go away. I gained a lot of weight when I was told to not ride, and I wish I didn't listen to the physiotherapist, because I think the weight gain worsened the pain (only my theory).

    Anyways, good luck - I know how painful it is. The pain shooting through my leg when sneezing was unreal...

  5. #5
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    Hnp

    Quote Originally Posted by pinkheadedbug
    I'm getting kind of vague answers from my PT on this, so thought I'd throw it out here.

    I herniated a disc six weeks ago. The big symptom was very bad sciatic pain and piriformis spasms. It started to get better after about 4 weeks, with the McKenzie exercises being super-helpful. I have now been off pain killers for two weeks and have only slight piriformis tightness and the occasional tingle if I sit too long or flex too much. My back muscles are still slightly tight on one side and I do not yet have full ROM in flexion although it is improving (I can't touch my toes and getting in/out of a car is a bit awkward).

    I'm pretty sure that in a week's time I am going to be pain free and I am hurting so badly to get back on the bike, even if it's only to ride the flattest of flat trail. However the PT says she thinks the disc is still healing and I should probably stay off for another six weeks or so. I got the impression this was an informed guess.

    What do you guys think? I'm not going to get back on a bike until I feel good about it, and I REALLY don't want to re-injure as this was a truly miserable experience.
    I think that you just answered your own question! You still get sx's when flexed or sitting. What position are you in when riding? Flexed in a sitting posture! I am not going to go against your PT's plan of care, however, I think that you could begin to spend short periods of time conditioning yourself to the position (maybe a few minutes on a trainer). I have had my pt's do specific segmental exercises while they are on the stationary bike/trainer. I make sure that they can individually fire their Transverse Abdominus without secondary compensatory abdominal contractions and I will also have them do specific segmental Multifidi contractions to make sure that they can control the areas and condition them for riding. Your sx's should give you a good indication of where you are in the recovery process. If you get exacerbated after only a couple of minutes then it is "later tater" for the bike!

    You can always ride a bike, you only get one spine!
    BoiseBoy

  6. #6
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    Boiseboy, that's great info. (I had to look up sx = symptoms though!).

    I am doing ab and multifidus exercises but not to the degree of specificity you are talking about.

    I think the trainer is going to be a good confidence builder.
    All problems in mountain biking can be solved by going faster, except the ones that are caused by going too fast.

  7. #7
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    I went for a ten minute ride today on the singlespeed, literally around the block. Nothing terrible happened although I felt kind of wobbly. I changed my position to be more upright and concentrated on keeping some lordosis in my back. It seemed fine, no worse than sitting in a chair for the equivalent amount of time.
    All problems in mountain biking can be solved by going faster, except the ones that are caused by going too fast.

  8. #8
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    I fall prey to a bulging S1/S2 disc from time to time...it gets aggrevated and starts putting pressure on nerves. Take it easy and give things a chance to heal.

    I'd say stay away from the trails for a bit but if you want/need to ride, make it paved road rides at a low pace....and avoid the potholes. Let your symptoms fully subside before you try the trails.
    As if four times wasn't enough-> Psycho Mike's 2013 Ride to Conquer Cancer Page

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    Good Luck with that

    I have three buldging disk actually one was herniated. THe only cure for me was surgery. It's been a year since my surgery and I am almost 100%.... My advise is to make sure your back muscles stay strong.

    Good luck

  10. #10
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    I apologize for the delay in responding. You really need to have your exercised approved by your PT.

    I do some stretching in one knee with the other leg in a 90 degree bend and hold for 30 seconds.

    The other stretch I do is on my stomach and raising up on my forearms and holding for 10 seconds.

    I do leg lifts on my back and on my stomach and hold for 5 seconds.

    But I am not sure that my exercises will do anything for your back.

    Good luck and be careful.

    Wayne

  11. #11
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    thanks, those are similar to what I am doing right now, as it happens!
    All problems in mountain biking can be solved by going faster, except the ones that are caused by going too fast.

  12. #12
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    Well, I figure I injured myself around 2 February. Today is April 4, seven or so weeks later, and I went for a decent bike ride. Not on a trail, but several km, enough to work up a sweat. No pain although I am definitely weaker because I've been off the bike. I did a monster hike on Saturday too, and I was tired but only had a slight tingling in my leg afterwards.
    All problems in mountain biking can be solved by going faster, except the ones that are caused by going too fast.

  13. #13
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    I did another 10k today, including a little bit of trail and some hills, but it was definitely pushing it.
    All problems in mountain biking can be solved by going faster, except the ones that are caused by going too fast.

  14. #14
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    I had surgery for herniation that was killing my sciatic nerve. Didn't ride for 4+ months but I am feeling great now. Glad I was conservative and got the fullest recovery possible. I know it sucks, but be patient. It will pay off!!

  15. #15
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    I did a little bit of real trail riding today. 10 weeks from my injury. Walked all the difficult bits. Very funny how an injury makes the simplest trail difficult. Singlespeed plus rigid made it even trickier. I am not remotely 'back' but at lot further along than the last time I posted.
    All problems in mountain biking can be solved by going faster, except the ones that are caused by going too fast.

  16. #16
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    Ride as much as you can without pain. When I was having back problems, one of the few things that I could do without much pain was ride, albeit on the road bike. Take it easy and make sure to do your exercises every day!

  17. #17
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    Ten weeks out... went for a ride (11km) yesterday on twisty singletrack, towing kid on a trail-a-bike. Was worried I had over done it... a bit tender today but I think it is OK.
    All problems in mountain biking can be solved by going faster, except the ones that are caused by going too fast.

  18. #18
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    Tomorrow will mark 4 weeks post-op from my discectomy and I am back to road riding. I have been doing a few very conservatively paced rides and being super cautious to "stabilize" my back at all times (especially when climbing).
    I am pretty much pain free while riding. Although when standing on the pedals I can feel some nerve pain but it is becoming less and less as time goes by.
    I see the surgeon again in two weeks and he expects to lift all restrictions at that time. Hopefully that will be the case and I will be able to start riding dirt again!!
    I think that I am learning to pedal all over again. To keep the pressure of my back I have noticed that I am pedaling from the hips much more.
    I have lost a ton of fitness while recovering from surgery but I am grateful to have been in good shape going into it. It had made recovery that much faster.
    Peace and Recovery to all you fellow "re-habers"!

  19. #19
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    I'm also a member of the herniated disk club. Well the doc and PT think that's probably what it is. Left leg has some numbness and nerve pain in the thigh and foot. All started 2 months ago when I fell on my butt while snowboarding. Instead of taking it easy I kept on boarding and went riding as well. Well 4 weeks ago I did a dumb move while boarding and really hurt my leg. First week I was on crutches cause my leg was so painful. But it's much better now. I've even been using my exercise bike at home for a week now. And today my PT gave me permission to go riding this weekend on really flat trails. Just hope the weather gets better.

  20. #20
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    I think once you are past the acute pain phase it is a really good idea to stay OFF painkillers as it makes it much easier to pick up the signals your body is sending.

    Seconding the idea to take it easy -- I tried riding after 4 weeks and it was real dicey. It stopped being dicey around 9-10 weeks. At 11 weeks I am at about 75% of my pre-injury form, taking into account my fitness loss. I ride without pain but I get a bit tender afterwards and I bail on the really steep stuff and the features.
    All problems in mountain biking can be solved by going faster, except the ones that are caused by going too fast.

  21. #21
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    Sunday I was able to do my first post-op dirt ride!!!! Sunday marked one day shy of 5 weeks post discectomy. I think that those first few miles saw me smiling more than i have ever smiled on a bike before!!! Truly one of the best rides of my life. I hope to never again take for granted my health and ability to be active!! Having lost it (temporarily) it is even sweeter now to be out on the trails again!!

  22. #22
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    That's great, Chris. And quick too.

    I've started commuting to work again along the trails and it's just like you say. I'm hitting every little bump and popping every kerb and root with a big fat grin on my face. Still not back to 100% or even 90% but I don't feel like an injured person any more.
    All problems in mountain biking can be solved by going faster, except the ones that are caused by going too fast.

  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by ChrisH.
    Sunday I was able to do my first post-op dirt ride!!!! Sunday marked one day shy of 5 weeks post discectomy. I think that those first few miles saw me smiling more than i have ever smiled on a bike before!!! Truly one of the best rides of my life. I hope to never again take for granted my health and ability to be active!! Having lost it (temporarily) it is even sweeter now to be out on the trails again!!
    Take 'er easy...I had perfect recovery and rehab after (L5/S1 60% left). My doc had me out of work for 4 weeks post surgery. I didn't get physical therapy until 2-3 months out other than walking. Got to let it heal before you get it going again. I am still terrified that I am going to tweak it, but I can push it in the gym and on the bike now.

  24. #24
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    Get yourself one of those springy seatposts if you are riding a hardtail.
    I have been nursing a bad back for about 10 years. I had the diskectomy, and blew it out again. The disc is just about gone, the doc said I am close to bone on bone. It took me about 2 years to fully recover from that, but the pain is gone now. I am shoppping for a full suspension bike because I don't need any kind of impact transferred to my spine.

  25. #25
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    I have been having a streak of bad muck lately. A year and a half ago I herniated my second disc (L4-L5, previous herniation of L5-S1 was over 18 years ago). I went through the normal physical therapy including 3 epidoral cortisone shots, 2 sets of 6 branch blocks and 1 radial frequency treatment (last treatment was October 06). My back has had it days but I was back riding, hitting the gym 3 days a week and feeling good. Then 5 weeks ago I hyperextended my elbow, thought I gave it enough time to heal and rode 2 weeks after the injury and then damaged it somemore. Went to see my ortho, he said I tore my tricep and that I needed PT and that I should hold off for another month before I ride again. I said ok, no problem. He then asked how the back was and I told him I have had a few bad days but it has been very good as of late. Now, each month I have a follow up appointment for the radial frequency, if I feel good I reschedule it (per docs orders), so last Thursday I postpone my appointment to July. Low and behold I hit the gym Friday morning, have a great, lite, workout (planned on going for a hike over the holiday, so wanted to take it easy), do all my stretches after an hour of cardio, shower and then pack up to leave the gym. When I squat down to zip my duffel I go to stand up and blow my back out again. I figure I just tweaked it. So I go to work knowing that I have a PT appointment. Go to PT, I explain what happened and my therpist says lets ice it while I work on your elbow, then when we ice the elbow we can do some stim on the back. Well, this is where the day goes south. After the stim I cannot stand or walk. The pain wnet through the roof. I was not doing good at all. Mt therapist started working on the back to see if I can just get home, take some meds and take it easy. No go! I could not even get into a wheel chair, the only position that felt decent was lying on my side. I tried to lye on my back and my whole bady had muscle spasms. It was the worst day I have ever had pain wise. I did have some muscle relaxers with me (in my gym bag). I took one, waited for a half hour and no help. 2 hours later I broke down and had them call the ambulance (first time ever). I went to the ER, had some x-rays, gave me some painkillers and sent me home. I tried to re-reschedule my appointment back to the original time and guess what they had already filled it. I am now on a long waiting list. I am now up and walking around, back to my stretching and feeling much better. Recovery this time has been much faster. I feel like I could go back to the gym already but I am taking the week off, going to see the PT next Monday and will have her check my alignment and evaluate from there.

    Hopefully that is the end of my bad luck! If you have a back injury listen to your body and take the time you need. I have been stubborn and not listened to my body and have paid the price for it. My post ride routine is the same as rehab, stretch and ice, same thing I do now, even since Friday. I have stretched or been stretched everyday. I think that is why I have bounced back so quickly.

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