About 7 weeks ago, I was training for a strongman competition. I had just come off an extremely
successful 12-week powerlifting program over the summer/early fall and hit new PRs in both squat and
deadlift. I was able to lift weights I haven’t touched in almost 15 years. Everything had been going
extremely well. I hadn’t had any significant back pain since last December 2020.
In an attempt to be better prepared for the strongman competition, I started a new training block,
focusing specifically on the lifts that the event was going to include – max deadlift, log and axle bar
overhead press medley, weighted keg loads for reps, arm-over-arm sled drag, and a weighted frame
carry. The movement I was most inexperienced with was the axle bar overhead press. In order to get the
bar overhead, you have to perform what’s called a continental clean, as seen in the video HERE. This is
what I strongly believe did me in.
As you can see, the movement starts with a deadlift into a high pull, with the bar placed on top of
abdomen. Then cleaned into a front rack position. From there, any form of press to get the bar overhead
is allowed. Push press, muscle press, strict press, push jerk – all fair game. Despite the fact the weight on
the bar is not anything substantial when compared to my deadlift weights, the awkward positioning and
explosiveness of the movement is what most likely contributed to my injury. This is not to say that this is
a bad movement overall. It is just not a good movement for me.
I had been training this movement for about 2-3 weeks, and it had been going okay. I tweaked my low
back one training session, but it was nothing out of the ordinary; something I’ve done numerous times. I
thought nothing of it and continued training regularly. I continued to irritate my back, but it did not
hinder me from training or interfere in my everyday life.
Fast forward to the Monday before Thanksgiving. I had another tweak, this time, more severe than the
previous ones, but again, nothing extreme. Then, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, my family and I
flew to Florida to celebrate the holiday on vacation. When I landed in Florida is when I started
developing some left hip and left lower leg pain. It was initially a burning-tightness in those areas. I had
more consistent low back pain at this point. It was fairly manageable, and I could brace and do air squats
without any major hinderance. The return flight home; however, was another story.
We got back to Rochester midday on Monday, 11/29 and went straight to the office. Dr. Sarah treated
me using our flexion and distraction table, which felt okay. The following morning, I was in rough shape,
but was able to go to work. I worked my usual shift and felt great throughout the day. The next day,
again, different story. I woke up in a lot of pain. I had scheduled an acupuncture appointment prior to
my evening work shift, thinking I’ll get treated and be able to cruise through my day of patients. Wrong.
Although I felt great during my acupuncture appointment, the moment I got off the table and had to get
dressed, my hip and lower leg went in spasm, and I was completely incapacitated. I called my wife and
told her there’s no way I can see patients. So, she scrambled to get our office staff to call my patients
and reschedule them for later in the week or the following week. Now, it’s Thursday, and I woke up
feeling better than the day before. I was able to come in and treat my patients without any major issues.
Friday, I was in a lot of pain again, and when I went to get in my truck, everything just seized up on me. I
was in severe pain and had to muster everything I could to make it into the office. I attempted to treat
my first patient, which turned out to be a mistake. I was in agony at this point. Again, we scrambled to
reschedule my entire day of patients. I spent the rest of the day at the office, trying to do something
resembling therapy, but had relatively no success. When Dr. Sarah finished her day, we went to urgent
care, as anything I threw at this injury in terms of treatment was coming up short of providing any relief.
I was prescribed some steroids and a muscle relaxer and received an injection for inflammation. Oh, and
by the way, this was my birthday, so cheers to being a decrepit 36 year old!
The next week was extremely rough. I wound up getting an MRI that Monday, which revealed a severe
disc extrusion at L5/S1 that was basically occluding the entire intervertebral foramen on the left. I had a
neurosurgery consultation and scheduled a steroid injection the following week. At this point, I’m still
experiencing severe hip and lower leg pain and have some motor weakness in my toe extensors due to
the nerve root impingement, and I haven’t slept in days. Saturday, the 11th , I contacted my PCP, and was
prescribed gabapentin to help with the nerve pain and a narcotic to help me sleep at night. It took the
edge off enough so I could actually get some sleep.
This has been an extremely difficult situation for me to go through because, as a chiropractor, I want to
try and do everything as conservatively as possible. But, at this point, the pain is unrelenting and I
needed SOMETHING to help. I always tell my patients there is a time and place for everything. My usual
order of operations is conservative care first. Exhaust all options first, whether its chiropractic, massage
therapy, physical therapy, acupuncture, etc., then medical intervention – prescription medications,
injections, and then finally surgery. There are cases that do not fit the standard order of operations.
Unfortunately, I was one of those cases.
So where am I currently? I have continued doing traction at the office. I have been going to acupuncture
and physical therapy twice a week for the past 3 weeks. I am still taking gabapentin for my nerve pain. I
only needed to take the narcotic prescription for 4 days and take a muscle relaxer as needed at night. I
am monitoring the motor weakness in my toes daily, which has not been worsening, which is a good
sign. My pain is much more manageable; however, I still can’t stand upright yet. Things are moving in
the right direction. Unfortunately, it’s a very slow process. The good thing about disc injuries is that they
CAN heal. It just takes about 2-5 months depending on what literature you read.
I want to thank everyone who has reached out and checked in on me during this unfortunate time. I
especially want to thank my patients, who have been flexible and understanding about rescheduling and
transitioning to one of our other providers until I am back in the office. We don’t have a definitive
timeline yet, but it hopefully will be sooner rather than later.