In the last round, on the tenth and final deadlift, I felt like someone shot me in the back. I collapsed. My body hit the floor before the barbell did. I laid on my back with both feet in the air for a few seconds before I managed to roll over onto my side into a fetal position. Something was terribly wrong. I couldn’t stretch my legs. I was stuck, curled up in a ball. I tried using just my arms to push myself up and the pain in my lower back was too strong. My friends offered a helping hand, but I was afraid to move.
Let’s hit the rewind button… What lead to this terrible injury?
Monday is usually my favorite day of the week. It’s a fresh start, something everyone looks forward to. August 29th, 2016, however, was a different story.
For starters, I had to sleep at my parent’s house because my grandmother was home alone. Not only that, there was zero real food in the fridge, so milk & cereal and a bag of microwave popcorn became dinner. In the morning, I ended up snoozing my alarm a few times because my parents live closer to the gym than I do. I despise snoozing. Waking up is hard enough to do once. Why would I want to do it twice or three times?
I wasn’t able to make my bulletproof coffee (pre-workout secret weapon) because I didn’t have the tools or ingredients handy. I got to the gym on an empty stomach. I was groggy after the high carb / high sugar dinner combined with the snoozing. Besides seeing my buddies in class, I was having a not so hot Monday morning. It was about to get much worse.
Here was the WOD:
x2 Empty Bar Warmup
5 Good Mornings
5 Back Squats
5 Strict Presses
Strength: Build up to 3 rep max Back Squat
Build up to 3 rep max Back Squat
Metcon (15-minute cap):
30 – 20 – 10
Row for Calories
Box Jumps 24″/20″
I sandbagged the warm-up. I rowed 500 at a 3-minute pace. I did the empty bar warm-up about 1.5x through. During the strength portion, I worked my way up to an 185 lb back squat. Before I dropped, I decided to put the bar back on the rack. I dropped the weight to 135 lbs and hit a 3×3 instead. At this point, I succumbed to checking the box. I was at the gym this particular morning so I can say I went and continued my 3x a week routine. I showed little to no desire to have a meaningful workout.
Before starting the Metcon, the class was encouraged to finish within 15 minutes. I quickly decided I’d finish in 14:59.
I didn’t finish.
I rowed with my eyes closed so I can escape the gym. I actually imagined myself in a lake, rowing in a canoe. I did step up box jumps because I was feeling empty and foggy. I did not want to miss a rep and scrape my shins. This would have been a blessing compared to what actually happened. Finally, my deadlifts were sloppy. Rounded back, Romanian style (slight knee bend, mostly opening and closing at the hip).
[ In the final round, on the tenth and final deadlift, I felt like someone shot me in the back. I collapsed. My body probably hit the floor before the barbell did. I laid on my back with both feet in the air for a few seconds before I managed to roll over onto my side into a fetal position. Something was terribly wrong. I couldn’t stretch my legs. I was stuck, curled up in a ball. I tried using just my arms to push myself up and the pain in my lower back was too strong. My friends offered a helping hand, but I was afraid to move. ]
Below is a detailed account of my road to recovery.
Day 1: Monday, 8/29/2016
It took a few minutes to gather myself post WOD. I crawled over to the bench. Then I decided to set myself up on the inversion table to relieve some pressure I was feeling in my lower back. Getting upside down felt great. I stayed inverted for a few minutes before I decided to face reality. When I returned to an upright position, a pain shot through my back again. I knew then that this would not be an easy fix. I grabbed my gym bag and hobbled to my car. It was difficult to get in and painful to drive.
Once I got home, I fell onto the couch on my stomach. The first thing I did was call the Chiropractor my friend referred. He said he wouldn’t be in the office until 4pm. It was only 9am at this point. I called another Chiropractor and they said they do not treat on the first visit. Instead, they take stock of what’s going on, come up with a plan of action, and I could start getting treated as early as the next day. It wasn’t good enough. So I hung up and decided to wait until 4pm.
The only logical thing I could think of at that point to ease the pain was to fall asleep. Big mistake. When I woke up around 2PM, I was stuck. I couldn’t move. I called the Chiropractor I was supposed to meet at 4 to see if he did in-home visits. He said no and asked, “What’s wrong?” I let him know I had just woken up and couldn’t move. He said, “Sleeping is probably the worst thing you could do after a major back injury. It stiffens you up. The only thing you can do now is to suck it up, get up, and start moving around. Use a chair for leverage and balance.”
At this point, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to drive myself to the Dr.’s office. I had to ask a good friend to leave work early to help me out. It took me about 45 minutes to get up and moving around. My mobility was so bad, I needed help getting into my shoes. *Thanks, Rags*.
We arrived at the Dr.’s Office around 5PM. I couldn’t even sit in the waiting room. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to get up.
Once he called me in, I described to him how I found myself in the current predicament. He ran a series of test. I had to try to touch my toes. How unsuccessful I was proved quite embarrassing. I could barely bend forward. I twisted left and right. I sat down and raised each foot by straightening my knee. My right leg stuck out at 45 degrees. My left leg barely moved. He twisted me over each shoulder while I sat there and winced in pain. The Dr. was hopeful and told me he’s 90% sure it’s not a disc injury based on my movement and pain levels.
After the initial consultation and testing, the Dr. asked me to lay on my stomach and apply these electrotherapy pads to my lower back. The electrotherapy lasted for about 7 minutes. After it was done, he asked me to lay on my right side. He attempted to crack my back, which yielded maybe one crack. On my left side, he wasn’t able to yield any cracks. Also, I screamed for mercy when he tried on my left side. It hurt. A lot. I apologized for screaming so loud , hoping I didn’t turn anyone away in the waiting room.
After he was unable to get the cracks he wanted, he brought me to another room with another type of bed. I lied on my stomach on this new bed as the Dr. moved around the bottom half. He moved my legs left, right, up, down, and circular. He was trying to increase the range of motion in my lower back. The pain was barely bearable.
He told me to return the next day. But not after giving me some homework.
Night 1 Homework: 20 minutes Heat, 20 minutes Rest, 20 minutes Ice, 20 minutes Rest AMRAP until sleep. 800mg Ibuprofen with food 4x daily.
Day 2: Tuesday, 8/30/2016
“If the day before yesterday was 100%, and yesterday was 0%, then today, I’m at about 30%”.
The heat, ice, and ibuprofen had helped significantly reduce the pain I was feeling. I had to catch up on some work Tuesday morning. So I called in some favors and got some things done before I head back to the chiropractor’s office around 12pm.
We went through the initial tests much more quickly this time. Try to touch toes, twist left and right, bring each foot up by straightening the knee in a seated position, etc. We did another 10 minutes of electrotherapy. Then he made another attempt to crack my back while I lay twisted on my side. He was able to squeeze out 1-2 cracks on each side.
Update on how I felt: I still can’t tie my shoes, getting in and out of the car was much simpler, sitting for more than 15 minutes (desk / car) was difficult.
Night 2 Homework: Same as night 1.
Day 3: Wednesday 8/31/2016.
Getting out of bed was more difficult today than it was yesterday. I didn’t make it to the Dr.’s office until 4pm. As soon as I got there, I let him know I felt the same as yesterday. He took it harder than I thought he would. He said, “although recovery isn’t linear, I still like to see improvements daily”.
I was determined to make progress. I asked the Chiropractor if he recommends sleeping on the floor. He quickly and firmly replied, “No”. He says it’s a common misconception, and I need not worry about it.
We got the initial tests out of the way quickly. He didn’t run electrotherapy this time. He wanted to change things up because I did not feel any improvement. Instead, he used an ultrasound machine. It started out as a cold gel applied to my lower back. It soon heated up as the ultrasound tool was rubbed over it.
Immediately after the ultrasound, he tried to crack my back with me laying on my left and right side. Success. He got more than 3 cracks on each side. The immediate relief was incredible. He also got a few cracks out of me while I laid flat on my back. Despite the successful cracking session, we went back to the traction bed so he can move around the bottom half of my body while the top half laid still.
Night 3 Homework: No more heat. Just 10 minutes of Ice and 20 minutes of rest. Two reps every time I take medication. Reduce ibuprofen dose to 2400mg 4x daily. Don’t come back until Friday.
Day 4: Thursday, 9/1/2016.
Compared to the last few days, I sprung out of bed in the morning. I was finally able to wash the lower half of my body in the shower. I was also able to comfortably reach into the bottom shelf of the fridge while making breakfast. I was also able to tie my shoes. All of these things were impossible on Day Two, Difficult on Day Three, and now feasible by Day Four. There was a little pain. But it felt more like a soreness after a tough workout instead of a paralyzing injury.
I took my 3 Advil with Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, & right before bed. This was the last day I took medication. I continued the ice treatment only 2 times that day.
Day 15: Monday, 9/12/16.
Since the last update, I haven’t taken any medication or applied any ice or heat to my lower back. I’ve been doing a very light exercise every morning for the past week:
With 20 lb dumbells. 3 Rounds: 10 Pushups, 10 bicep curls, 10 shoulder presses, 10 Bent Over Rows
This simple routine took less than 10 minutes to complete each morning. More importantly, it made me feel like I can go back to the gym sooner than I originally thought. When I initially injured myself, I was worried if I’d be able to get back in the gym at all. Then a few days went by and I told myself I’d take an entire month off.
Then I went to see my Chiropractor 15 days after the injury and he encouraged me to go back sooner than later. He reminded me that muscle deteriorates 6x more quickly than it builds. The best thing I can do is get back to the gym and lightly exercise the muscles that have been dormant for two weeks.
Day 22: Monday 9/19/2016. Back In The Gym
Run 400m Then…
“The CrossFit Warmup”Mobility: prep for strength/conditioning
Strength: Shoulder Press (5-3-1 @75%, 85%, 95%)
x2-3 Empty bar warmup for snatch
2 Snatch Pulls
2 Hang Power Snatch
2 Overhead Squats
2 Squat Snatches
Then work up to weight for MetCon.
21 Power Snatches 115/80
15 Overhead Squats 115/80
15 C2B Pull-ups
9 Squat Snatches 115/80
9 Bar Muscle-ups*
Needless to say, I scaled the WOD. I used a 75# bar and only did strict pull ups each round. Also for the power snatches, I did them all from the hang position. Before the WOD, I was nervous. However, during and after the WOD, I felt great.
The road to recovery on this injury was long and scary. At first, the pain convinced me some long term side effects might be inevitable. I try to identify the lessons in all set backs. In this particular case, I think the lesson is to practice mindfulness and stay within limits. I’ve been working on mindfulness every single day for the past 2 years, but pushing the envelope is one of my favorite past times.
I’m looking forward to getting back to regularly scheduled programming (Monday, Wednesday, Friday mornings). I’ll likely perform workouts at Female RX weights for at least the next 4 weeks. Spend another 4 weeks between Female and Male RX weights.
Finally, I won’t hesitate to go see my chiropractor if this injury flares up again. The immediate relief he can provide is worth more than the copay it costs to see him.
If I had to outline my recovery plan from today forward, it would look like this:
– Spend 4 weeks at Female Rx Weights
– Spend 4 weeks between Female and Male Rx Weights
– Visit chiro if injury flares up
– Take preventative action: GHD Back Extensions 1 day / week + 1 Minute on Inversion Table 1 day / week.