How do I start running even though I have disc problems
August 25, 2013 8:32 AM   Subscribe

It's been a few years since I had an MRI but I have two degenerated discs that give me problems now and then. What do I need to do to start running for exercise?

Once a year or so one will herniate- not caused by anything that I can put my finger on. It just happens. I am in very good shape and fully capable of running OTHER than this. Is it a bad idea overall or is there a way I can start running that will cause little impact on my back?

Yes, I know you're not a doctor and I should ask my doctor but my appointment isn't for a few months and I wanted some preliminary advice.
posted by Thrillhouse to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I'd be curious as to why running is the activity of choice for you? As a 50+ y/o (slow) triathlete I've learned the importance of treating your body kindly. Running is hard on my knees, so I keep it to a minimum and just for races. I find swimming and biking provide the fitness I need to compete. If you have a chronic problem with herniated disks, why stress them with a relatively high impact form of exercise? There are lots of alternatives: biking, swimming, roller blades, skating, x-country skiing, etc. From my POV I'd say don't make matters worse. Choose something sustainable and less potentially destructive to your spine.
posted by ecorrocio at 8:52 AM on August 25, 2013 [4 favorites]

My wife has herniated discs and has been specifically advised by physio and doctor not to run as a form of exercise. YMMV of course, but I would really wait for a doctor's opinion of your specific condition before you give it a try.
posted by crocomancer at 9:07 AM on August 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

is there a way I can start running that will cause little impact on my back?

Not really. Maybe try erging (using a rowing machine) or swimming instead.
posted by Specklet at 11:12 AM on August 25, 2013

I would consult with a good physical therapist, rather than a doctor.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:38 AM on August 25, 2013

I also have disc problems and like to run and my doctor told me straight out, "listen, you are not doing your back any favors by continuing to do that." He said I could keep on if I wanted to, but it would probably make my issues worse. So I kept doing it anyway, until this spring when, after stepping up my mileage, my back started hurting every day instead of going out every year or so. Hey! He was right. I have switched to walking, yoga, and gentle weights, and am hoping I have not irreparably damaged things in there to the point that I will be in some level of pain for the rest of my life.

Lesson: Don't be like me. Find something else to do for exercise that doesn't put strain on your spine.
posted by something something at 11:39 AM on August 25, 2013

Just don't run. If you absolutely must have something that feels sort of like running, get on an elliptical, and afterwards spend some time (around 10 minutes) lying flat on the floor, hugging your knees to your chest, to help relax your spine. But you're better off finding a new excercise routine.

This is not medical advice. I am not a doctor.
posted by windykites at 12:27 PM on August 25, 2013

Response by poster: Okay. You've convinced me. It's a stupid idea. Time to go bike shopping. I've never had an issue with cycling. Just thought I'd try something different to break it up a little.
Thank you, anonymous inter-peoples!
posted by Thrillhouse at 12:28 PM on August 25, 2013

I think it would be different if you didn't hurt. When I went through the saga of my back (20 yrs old, slipped disc doing nothing I could pin down, which ended up sitting on my sciatic nerve, causing intense pain/numbness and resulting in loss of muscle control in my foot ending in a microdiskectomy) the neurosurgeons all mentioned that while I had "degenerative disc disease" the truth is that if we MRI'd a random segment of the population, lots of people would have discs that look just like mine, but would never in their entire lives claim any pain. AKA we have no freaking clue how the back works. I run. I ran 12 miles this morning. But. I have no pain. For several years after my surgery I'd have periods of intense pain followed by physical therapy and drugs. I focus hardcore on my core when working out and do all those physical therapy exercises. And now have no pain. So I run. And love (ok, love/hate) it. But if I did have pain? No.
posted by atomicstone at 12:45 PM on August 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Try minimalist shoes. I have a 14° curvature in my spine and at least 2 degenerated discs (confirmed by MRI). My back feels WORSE when I don't run. 4 years in minimalist shoes, training for my 2nd marathon. The minimal cushioning forces me to use my calves as springs, with a proper forefoot strike like our legs are engineered to work, and takes the strain off my knees and back. Try it. YMMV, obvs. But it works for me.
posted by caution live frogs at 1:18 PM on August 25, 2013

All exercise - for health - should have a purpose. What are you trying to accomplish?

Running as exercise offers very specific benefits, and it will take some design to match that with other kinds of exercise.

If you do decide to bike, keep in mind what kind of exercise it is. It's aerobic, and it will enhance the endurance of your leg muscles. So you will have aerobic conditioning more or less on par with running, but it will have next to none of the bone benefits of running. Runners have better bone density in their leg bones and spine. Bikers experience no such benefit.

This means that if you are trying to closely match the benefits of running, you'll need to find ways of enhancing bone health. There are really two ways, one of which is weight-bearing exercises. With a bad back, obviously you'll need to carefully structure those so you don't sustain further injuries - best consult with an physical therapist and trainer to come up with a program to do it safely and still extract maximum bone benefits. The other way is through vibration therapy, which you may not have immediate access to.

Note, that with running, you are not getting any real bone benefits in the arms or elsewhere other than the leg bones and spine. Jogging at moderate intensity, frequency and speed, is associated with extensive health benefits and a longer lifespan. So far so good for running. But you still need weight-bearing exercise.
posted by VikingSword at 5:14 PM on August 25, 2013

Just another bad back chiming in to say that if you have known damage, do not do anything that may be stressful without talking to the one (s) who diagnosed that damage.

FWIW, I can bike pretty much okay but a spin bike is apparently design to tear your spine to pieces.

Probably, your doc will say go ahead and do what you want to do - along with some caveats about form and a list of warning signs to be aware of and respect.

Good luck. Having a chronic issue that makes a certain set of activities potentially dangerous is frustrating.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 11:31 AM on August 26, 2013

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