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I have always been a stickler for proper form. I have always ensured clients used proper form and that everyone in my small group classes understood the importance of form. Injuring my back gave me a whole new appreciation of how easily the health of your spine can go and how hard it is to get it back… If you ever do.
When I originally injured my back (L5 S1 disk bulge and SI joint jam) this was my initial reaction:
Sports doctors, my chiropractor, my physio, my osteopath (Yes I have a lot of specialists since starting Crossfit) all warned me that:
1) I will take a long time to recover.
2) My back may never be the same.
You see, I went through this order of events:
When it happened I had been overtraining. I did a deadlifting WOD the day before then just finished up a Olympic lifting class. I pulled out the plates and started my deadlifting program (5/3/1). I blew out my back on MY WARM UP WEIGHTS!! And my form is damn good. My back just literally gave out. It had enough and wasn’t lifting another thing off the ground. I thought maybe it was just me so I did one more lift and my back rounded. I felt pain. I couldn’t really put the plates away that well but I played tough so no one would know what was wrong. I texted my hubby that I injured myself. At first I was all calm and composed, then the tears came.
2) I didn’t think I’d walk again (The pain was that bad and I literally couldn’t move without excruciating pain!). I woke up at 3 am not able to move without crying in pain.
3) I didn’t think I’d be an athlete again.
4) I’ll just shake it off. Once the meds kicked in I thought “Oh, I’ll definitely be back to training in a month!”.
I’ve worked through many injuries before. I had a shoulder problem and even though physio’s told me I may never be able to kip or do gymnastics moves, I proved them wrong. I figured everyone was being dramatic about how bad a back injury is.
As I’ve said before, after 2 months off I felt great and went back to training. I quickly reinjured my back and tore my bicep tendon, trying to get back into my program too fast in an attempt to be ready for the open.
Today I saw this video, of Annie Thorisdottir:
I can relate to the sadness she feels. Obviously I am not at her level but it is devastating to put a year worth of competitive plans on hold for an injury…. An injury that you aren’t even sure you will bounce back from 100%.
Here’s the problem:
Once the disk wall is weakened because of a bulge it will never be as strong as it once was. You can do preventative care and strengthen your core to help support your back, but that site will always be more prone to injury.
I’ve recovered really well since being reinjured. I wore an SI joint brace for a long time and spent endless amounts of time doing rehab. I am slowly increasing my weights. I am up to a 170 pound back squat. I can run long distances again. I can do upper body (on the side that doesn’t have a bicep tendon tear)… But my back does not feel 100%. It’s always in the back of my mind that I may be on borrowed time.
What I experience after my back injury. My new “normal”.
* My spine gets stiff. I had a regular flu and thought someone had poured cement down my spine.
* My QL, a muscle in my back gets excruciatingly tight. It is honestly so painful.
* Weekly trips to the massage therapist and chiro just to keep me training.
* My SI joint gets easily “jammed”, which is painful and screws up my gait and lifts.
* My gait is off, and therefore I get knee injuries from running, because of my jammed SI joint and tight QL.
* I have to decompress my spine multiple times a day to feel relief.
Now, some of this may pass but some may not. I’ve had many days crying on the curb to the gym or crying in specialists offices when they tell me I need to accept my back may never be the same. I’m getting to a point where I accept it. It’s not that I may never be able to do Crossfit again. The questions becomes:
Can I do it ensuring my form will ALWAYS be spot on? Can I ensure my deadlifts, in the middle of a WOD will be perfect enough to protect my back? Can my back handle the volume necessary (Currently it cannot handle high volume, especially in lifts off the floor)? And am I willing to risk the consequences of my actions if I mess up?
I share this for one reason:
I want other people to THINK and PROTECT themselves from this happening.
Is that one last rep really worth it?? Is shaving 20 seconds off your time worth rounding your back??
Because let me tell you this:
It may not be the first time or the second that you blow out your back pushing your luck. I look back and remember multiple times I pushed the lifts and now think “yep… It was damage over time that led to this injury… I had it coming.. I always wanted one more rep”.
If it’s worth it to you, then I wish you luck and hope you don’t have to go through a back injury.
For those that don’t lift heavy and think “This does not apply to me”. I know people, and have helped rehab people, that blew their back out gardening, cleaning, lifting their child, picking up a box, the list goes on.
You NEED to protect your back with a strong core and proper form. There are people that have come back from injuries to their back and are stronger than before, but as Annie says, you have to look hard for those individuals. The health of your back is not something to take lightly. At the end of the day how much time does it take to do some bird dogs and planks, or other stability work for your core? Barely any time. Do them during commercials if you have to.
I still hope to inspire others that have experienced this injury. I’ve accepted that this year is a bust and I’m just slowly trying to work up for next year. I have some amazing adventures planned for my competitive career next year. I was introduced to trail racing by my good friend Jessica, of http://lacesandlattes.com. It is definitely something I want to pursue. I am also VERY excited to be training for some Adventure Races next year. I am even taking kayaking lessons this summer to improve! All is not lost if you do experience an injury such as this but I can guarantee plans will be put on hold and your athletic future may not be what you originally planned on, which is ok… It may turn out to be something even better! 😉