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Weight lifting disc injuries
I’m Dr Jason Berry, a chiropractor at Pure Healthcare, and over the last 14 years, I have treated numerous athletes from weekend warriors to elite level, and had the pleasure working with some great practitioners, to help treat and rehabilitate athletes that have injured their discs while training or competing.

With regards to injuries sustained training in the gym, a disc injury is a very serious one, and one that could potentially lead to recurring pain and dysfunction or even end a sporting career. This type of injury involves a lot more care than just pain relief and should be tackled by a health care professional trained in neuromuscular diagnosis and treatment.

It is important to first appreciate how the discs in your lower back work during daily activities like standing, sitting, and bending forward. A disc is composed of a tough outer tissue and a gel-like inner pulp. These discs protect the bones in our spine (vertebra), acting like cushions or shock absorbers as we move.

The below table is an example of how the pressure in the discs in your lower back change, with relatively simple exercises that we all do in the gym.

By increasing the amount of weight while performing exercises in the gym, or by having to bear down/strain while doing the exercise it increases the intra-abdominal pressure. This increases the pressure on the discs resulting in an increased risk of injury. If you add less than perfect form and muscles that are not as well conditioned as they should be, as well as some adrenalin/testosterone and a generally competitive attitude (in both sexes), then you have a time bomb waiting to go off.

An example of this common mistake is often seen in the gym, when performing exercises like deadlifts with a rounded or arched back. That bad posture significantly increases the pressure on the discs and joints in the lower back, as opposed to lifting with a straight back and hinging at the hips. According to research by world renowned biomechanist Vladimir Zatsiorsky, round back deadlifting, increases the pressure on the discs in the lower back by up to 66%, when compared to arched back lifting. This is backed up by other research which found that hyperextension of the lumbar spine under high load increases your chance of injuring the joints and structural elements of the spine (Hardcastle et al 1992). Therefore, proper form while deadlifting is essential in preventing injury.

It is imperative to consider more than just the right lifting technique. Other important considerations are:

  1. Previous injury, and the management of it. I often see/hear someone say that they injured a disc and are training through it, or haven’t had the correct treatment.
  2. Do you have full range of motion?
  3. Are you stretching correctly and warming up prior to and post exercise?
  4. Engaging in a core strengthening routine. There is much more to core strength than getting a six pack or just sit-ups. This, stretching and warm up/down should be done under the supervision of a trained professional.
  5. Make sure that the team of people you are working with are all working together in your best interest. That is where we at Pure Healthcare stand out. We are a group of practitioners with differing expertise in terms of treatment and rehabilitation under one roof, which makes it easy to co-ordinate your treatment so you get the best outcome.   

References

Hardcastle P, Annear P, Foster D. Spinal abnormalities in young fast bowlers. J Bone Jt Surg 1992;74B(3):421.

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