Herniated Disk and return to powerlifting

wook's picture


Has anyone had a herniated lumbar disk, had a microdiscectomy, and successfully returned to powerlifting? Obviously the surgeons are going to advise...No Squats, no deadlift, but leg press is ok. If so, how long after the surgery are you and did you modify your workout?

Additionally, has anyone seen any evidence based studies or research examining re-herniation of the disk after weight resistance exercises? If so, would you please post them?

Thanks in advance for any and all assistance.


Herniated Disk and return to powerlifting

I am not a competitive powerlifter but I do squat and deadlift.

I herniated L4-L5 in 1993 and had surgery on it later that year (no fusion). I think it was called a discectomy. I have a rather large scar so it definitely wasn't using anything micro....

In 1999, I herniated L5-S1. I was scheduled to have surgery on it as well but the doctor was going on vacation and the surgery was scheduled a month later. In that time, I somehow rehabbed myself. I did anything I could do that didn't hurt which mainly boiled down to pull ups (actually just hanging alot because I couldn't do many pullups) and dips and trying to stay off my feet. The day of surgery, I was speaking with a nurse who asked me how I was feeling. I told her I was feeling OK and she got the doctor for me. He re-evaluated me and told me he was not going to operate and to come see him in a week. I never went back to him and haven't had any problems.

I realized that I needed to be more flexible in my hamstrings and I had (have) weak abs. I focused on fixing those problems. I also bought a reverse hyper which I use alot. I still have bouts of sciatica (I believe unrelated to the surgery because it usually comes after doing or trying something heavy). The reverse hyper really helps with that and knowing when to call it quits for the day and when to take an extra day or two off.

I also learned that surgery probably wasn't necessary but I didn't know better at the time. It would definitely be my last resort. Many people have herniated discs and don't ever know it.

As far as my lifting goes, I am not really that strong for a guy who is almost 240# at 6'1. I dead around 500 using the upper back rounded style. I used to try and fix my form (I was A LOT weaker using the so-called proper form) but after seeing videos of champion lifters who use that form, I am ok with it and I almost always feel the lift in my hamstrings, not my lower back. My squat is around 405-ish on a good day. Those are both with just a belt, no wraps or anything else. I guess I am built more for the deadlift because my 37 inch arms certainly don't help me bench, which I have put on the back burner due to my current obsession with overhead pressing.

If you have only seen one doctor, get more opinions. Try all sorts of spinal decompression, make surgery your LAST option. I was 22 when I had mine and I know my young age made recovery better. I don't recall how long until I was able to get back to things. I was told not to squat or deadlift either but the person telling you that probably isn't a lifter and doesn't know the therapeutic benefits of lifting. I remember starting out REALLY light and moving up over a long period of time.

I hope some of this helps you. I don't think you would have to quit powerlifting, but you might have to change things. However, I am not you so I can only be objective to your situation as everyone is different and your experience may not be like mine.

Good luck.

Herniated Disk and return to powerlifting

Stu McGill has some great stuff on back rehabilitation. Check him out:

Joe Skopec's picture

Herniated Disk and return to powerlifting

Fractured L3 and T7 Both discs were herniated.
No surgery, but it was a long time before I could lift heavy.
I at least maintain 2x bodyweight in squat and deadlift.
But I have been well over that in the past with no real trouble.

Each case is different of course.
I'm sure alot depends on nerve involvement, pain tolerance etc.