This has been a rough week. I’m about four months post surgery and I had a setback. My back and nerves flared up. This triggered some of the frustration I have been hiding all along. This whole period I have approached with such confidence that things will be fine and it was easy to see it that way if I felt each day be a little better than the day before. That little bit would calm and suppress just enough to not feel or remember what led me to this point and id have a level optimistic head on. But this week I was not getting that satisfaction not at all. A familiar pain was back shooting down the left calf/foot. My initial reaction was fear and panic. Thoughts of I cannot go through this again and I cannot lose my ability to train. The difference was I not only felt frustration in the present moment, but I felt it for the future as well. When I feel frustrated it predominantly is coming from a place of impatience. It is the gap between expectation and the conditions in present time. For me experiencing a week where moving hurt again set off all the underlying frustration. I felt the expanding and worry all the work and investment was not enough to fix my spine. I need to get out and express what all happened leading up to my surgery. Two motives to heal and help others.
1. I cannot block out a life experience and miss the chance to learn and grow. Fooling yourself on how bad it really was will not helping anyone or you. Writing through hard experiences helps one process actual events and not only replaying what we want to remember.
I am aware I have battled unhealthy, compulsive, and addictive behaviors with training, but I have built my life around it. Truth is I am not discipline I am just an escape artist from dealing with the mental terror I create internally from not giving effort at all times. The relationship I have with myself is so caught up in if I did enough or worked hard enough. The rules and standards in my mind have changed and adapted over the years depending on my current goal, but no matter what it is I am obsessive. Training hides whatever inadequacy or unacknowledged internal pains I carry and why I am so terrified to lose it, because then you have to answer how you really feel about yourself. It is my world and I have shamelessly justified a workout even amongst the direst of situations.
A few experiences in my past I know I have gone emotionally numb and put off feeling and dealing with trauma. It is a defense mechanism to protect the conscious mind from feeling the pain of processing raw experiences. Refusal to acknowledge your feelings and express emotions only obstructs your chance to grow. The longer you avoid the grieving process the stickier the residue once the band-aid is ripped off. Progress has been linear up unitl last weekend and this luck ran out. Progressive healing was temporarily and suddenly no longer on my terms. I had a reminder shooting down my left leg about what I felt before surgery. The fear and self-inflicted failure from not listening, The blame from knowing better, sadness I can’t continue what I feel made for, and guilt from being so stubborn.
I told my brother immediately after surgery that I just do not want to get depressed. That was my goal to not fall into that hole as I healed physically. I had to be strong. Back surgery is stressful enough, but I also was due to start a new coaching job at Army Westpoint five days later. This brought on added fear and stress. Will I be able to do my job? Will I even still have a job after it is learned by my future employers I currently cannot perform the physical demands. I believe the timing needed to be filled with this much pressure for me to rehabilitate correctly and for once have patience with myself. I had to be backed into a corner with my career calling me out to not be self-destructive. Pain, further self-harm, and isolation were not threats like the thought of not being able to coach.
2. Transparency to everyone that has reached out with questions to not sugarcoat the risks with disc injuries and the steps prior to deciding for treatment.
Herniated discs are quit common, but many times are not even causing pain. MRI’s of individuals walking down the street can have bulging discs. This does not mean jump to a microdiscectomy. I have been messaged on how I am making the rehab process not look as grueling or detrimental as a doctor or physical therapist may say. My intent of sharing has never been to push surgery. Each situation is unique and different. I believe so much can be accomplished in healing your own body with correct exercise technique, firing patterns, and programming. I owe honesty about what can happen if you push an impinged nerve/herniated disc too far and how I am still conservative on treatment options. On the other side of the spectrum I have received negative opinions about the fact I had surgery.
Maybe some people can strengthen their core, take time off, or successfully heal dropfoot without surgery, but my case escalated very quick to where I was risking more by not doing anything. It needs to be known prior to my ER visit and surrounding my meet I had:
-1 initial MRI in March with 5 herniations, degenerative discs, and former fractures
-1 ten day prednisone pack of corticosteroids before and one after.
– 1 epideral before and 2 after (l4/l5x2, l5/s1x1)
-Countless chiropractic visits all winter/spring
-I had this surgery previously in high school making my disc already at higher risk
I have been lucky this far to be rapidly getting better. I believe I was able to progress so much faster with minimally taxing my recovering spine, because of the strength and work capacity I had before surgery. I could handle more volume of physical therapy and push the typical microdiscectomy timeline. But when I had 315 on my back I reached working weight again and I could not muscle through the load. Things had to fire and move very precise to not aggravate my back and as with anything there is a learning curve. My piriformis and sacrum really tightened up on the surgery side which resulted in nerve pain. The nerve pain from hip tightness is normally referred to as piriformis syndrome. This for me will shoot the pain down to the ankle and numb foot along the l4/l5 nerve root. I have inflammation already on that nerve root due to the regeneration process after being compressed all spring. Nerves typically regenerate an inch a month or a mm a day in ideal circumstances. This will be an uphill battle for a while, but this nerve pain is part of the healing process. Think of it as when you move your arm after it falls asleep. Initial pins and needles as sensations come back and return to function.
I wish I could say when the motive twisted from monitoring and adjusting training and my daily routine to mere survival. I do not. The thing with pain is you just have to survive one second and not connect it to the one before or after. Let it stand on its own. Pain threshold is the ability to just not connect the dots. Pain is not what led me to the E.R. Loss of function and strength in my left foot did not lead me there as well. I have had all those sensations before in my first surgery and the pains were not unfamiliar to me. I remembered which meant I could predict with a false sense of control and work around what I was physically feeling and limited to.
Prior to my meet I drove out to a gym for help on a monolift about 1.5 hours away. I performed my loose westside templates circamax ten and 17 days out. Each time I doubled the car time on the ride back. I was questioning what I was doing and pulling over on the side of the road through Kentucky backwoods to stretch and lay in my backseat until the nerves calmed down. I did not know who to call. There was this fear communication would lead to causing people that cared to worry or to shut me down. Because if they knew me well enough, they knew I would not back down and probably had already pushed too far. This is where tunnel vision prevents you from getting help.
The second and third shot were after my meet and my pain level was going in the wrong direction.The anti-inflammatory properti es from the cortisone allowed the broken disc fragments to move further along scar tissue from previous injury and inflame the nerves even more. The final shot was on a Tuesday. I was scheduled to drive to Summer Strong two days later and catch up with my best friend Stephanie and earn NSCA CEUs in a very fun, motivating environment. Summer Strong I was in a good bit of pain you could say, I was trying my best to hide it and be optimistic that the shot a few days prior would kick in and relieve me. I am so grateful for Stephanie’s patience, I felt my moods and waddling made it harder for her to have the best experience possible. I was also bitter I could not participate in the competition. I hated explaining I was hurt, and not be able to train in that contagious environment.
Fast forward to the drive home to Huntington, West Virginia. What should have been a six hour drive turned into ten. I was struggling to sit for long periods of time and the extra stops began. With pit stops you make a bathroom trip, this was the beginning of facing reality and discovering how off things really were. I had lost control of my bladder from the sciatic nerve inflammation. I could not go to the bathroom when I wanted or control when it happened and in addition to the sciatic nerve pain in my foot, the pelvis area was just numb and burning. I am a 27 year old single female and I probably should think more about the future and not opt to mess up this region of my body. This was the red flag that had me crawl (literally) to the car two days later to arrive at the hospital. I needed to heal.
When I arrived that night I was shuttled to an MRI and I called an intern (reference for life!) from work to check on my puppy, because I had a feeling this was not going to be a quick trip. The image confirmed I took this past the point of cortisone and deadbug planks. I immediately burst into tears at the mention of surgery and wondered how I was going to be able to not train. Which in the scope of what I was being told and the risks that should not have been the first thought. I was told a neurosurgeon had been contacted for immediate operation the next day. I still technically had a choice and could leave, but everyone I spoke with was concerned I may lose function permanently if I were to move the wrong way with the disc the way it was now. The next thing I had to do was call my dad at 2am and explain the plan. I asked for help to move and threw in a by the way because I am the hospital getting surgery tomorrow. His response was “what do you mean, your fine (typical). It is okay to be sore that doesn’t mean you need surgery.” Then he thought about how he was not talking to the eight year old girl on the softball diamond anymore and those lessons he had already passed on. When I showed weakness to my Dad the situation became real.
Surgery went well. The procedure was a little more in depth being the second one and with scar tissue that had to be worked through. I had a little bit of cerebrial spinalfluid leak, which meant intense headaches upon waking and a few days after. Immediate relief was felt upon waking, but traded for numbness down to my foot which remains today. This week the familiar burn and shoot has returned. It is more dull and unrelated to movement, but it just feels so familiar I get scared. Terrified and emotional is more like it. Everything post surgery has been uphill and now I would like to think of this as a lateral step. Feeling means the numbness is waking up, but I learned I need to be more careful and selective in what I do. Cardio cannot conflict with what I am trying to accomplish in the weight room. The hardest lesson is moderation. Just because you can do something does not mean you should.
Surgery is a last resort and by no means a quick fix. Opening up about what led to this for me I hope sheds light on how there was many steps and decisions to try, pause, or push through my injury. I hope whoever must go through this is open about what they are feeling and takes all the precautionary steps before getting cut open. This flare up served as a reminder that I am not out of the woods yet. Four months later and I still must stay on top of rehabilitation and recovery. I wish I could have the time back that I have given to extended warmups, stretches, and modalities. I would use it to close the gap by working harder and not by managing an injury. Feeling the gap stretch out of my control flashed my mind back to when things were at their worst. And after a breakdown and deep breaths that glimpse allowed me to realize that I am closer. Even if progress were to halt today I still am closer than other singular dots on my timeline were and it is in my control whether the next dot I am doing something progressive from my current reality or not. Progressive may at times mean nothing and that still can fill the quota of if I gave enough effort for the day. Since then I have stepped up and taken better care of my recovery and remembered what my initial goal was to not get depressed as I heal.
Highlights training past few weeks
315 squat and 235 bench