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Training and rehab post recovery from Cervical disc / nerve problems - other experiences?
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I'm interested in whether anyone has experience in returning to triathlon and endurance sports after being diagnosed with disc/nerve issues. I have a mild disc bulge at C6-C7 which mildly displaces the left C7 nerve, plus some less serious lower back nerve issues. My doctor says its old age (62), i prefer to think its because of my athletic excellence, but i suspect decades of poor posture, core neglect, limited rotation and too much time stuffed into long haul airline seats is the cause. The major trigger last year was a swim and bike ramp leading to IM CDA. Physio and a series of cortisone injections over the last 9 months have made a huge difference in resolving the lower left arm pain in particular that i had. I'm hoping to avoid surgery.

I've gradually returned to training - bike on the trainer with the front elevated somewhat to ease the neck strain, swimming with focus on head alignment and rolling to breath. I'm most tolerant of bike and run, some aching at the base of the neck but i can deal with that and it goes away in a day. Swimming is the most troublesome. Doesn't take much to trigger nerve pain in my left forearm again and temporary nerve pain in my foot while swimming plus the odd tingle in fingers. Swimming with a pull buoy is easier and i'm considering doing a bunch of dryland stretch cord work and limiting the pool time.

And yes, i have a great physio and have medical advice, interested in any personal experiences with this.

Thanks guys.
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Re: Training and rehab post recovery from Cervical disc / nerve problems - other experiences? [Greg R] [ In reply to ]
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Well here's my story..... about 4 years ago I started to have pain in my neck (constant) over the shoulder to my arm and hand. It kept getting worse and worse to the point swimming and running was no longer an option, I was able to keep cycling on the road bike if I took it easy. After half a year the pain was unbearable and I was ordered a MRI which showed all sorts of problems but the main one was C4/C5 medium damage, C5/C6 medium damage and C6/C7 the disc was almost gone. I was given options by the specialists but because I was relatively young (46 now) at the time a fusion was a last resort. So it was sent home and told to try and find my way with these problems.

I decided to crack on with swimming, cycling and running sometimes with a lot of pain (yes I took painkiller occasionally...but not a fan of them). I also had to change bikes (bought a SHIV where I could play a bit more with the front (upwards)), the running is with a bit more ease (no explosive intervals) and I swim half the time with a snorkel.

My advise is simply keep fit! Go to gym and do strength training it really helped me a lot (I still do it twice a week).

I know my future at the end is operation in the neck and also back but for now am still ok. Good luck and enjoy what you can do!
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Re: Training and rehab post recovery from Cervical disc / nerve problems - other experiences? [Greg R] [ In reply to ]
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I'd like to hear ideas on this as well as I was recently diagnosed with Cervical Spondylosis which was made acute through a bicycle crash. I was told PT and anti-inflammatories are the solution. My right thumb was a bit numb for a few months prior to diagnosis and my neck has pain. It is very frustrating as it is taking months to improve and riding aggravates it.
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Re: Training and rehab post recovery from Cervical disc / nerve problems - other experiences? [Greg R] [ In reply to ]
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I have had herniated and bulging discs in the lumbar section. My dad has had fusions on both the Cs and Ls. He ran his first marathon 2 years after his first back surgery. The #1 thing we have learned is it will never be 100% pain free. The goal is to keep that pain at zero as long as we can. So far, I have been able to avoid surgery, but I know it will come eventually. Same as you, the steroid shots in the spine have been life savors for me.

From a endurance running standpoint, go slow when building back up again. Shoes are #1. I can't wear the same pair for 2 years like I could in my teens( I see a lot of people cringing as they read that). Running surface also makes a big difference. Even small things like running on the shoulder of the road versus the road itself makes a big difference. Harder surfaces are faster, but they are also harder on the spine.

It sounds like you are doing the right things in recognizing what is nerve pain versus what is training soreness. I really have to stay on top of the stretches my PT gave me while ramping towards a event. If I don't it starts to hurt a lot. I have stopped a couple times during events to do those stretches when I know it is nerve pain. To me, stopping and stretching for 2 or 3 min and getting 30 min of relief is worth it. Although, I have had medics on the course stop to see if I am okay while doing my stretches lol.

I also love the chiropractor. I go once a month and I believe it helps. I know others will disagree about chiropractors.

I also love my foam roller.

Hope this helps.
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Re: Training and rehab post recovery from Cervical disc / nerve problems - other experiences? [Greg R] [ In reply to ]
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A few years ago I had an MRI done after a backward fall, going up stairs. End result, when I landed on my butt, I had sheared off part of a disc, which now floats about in there, also a couple more were bulging and they also determined I had mild scoliosis. Add to that nerve constriction at my neck that was making the arm movement for freestyle excruciating. Being Canada, I had a few months to wait for my specialist appointment as my lower back condition is not life threatening (and I'm not a hockey player).

During that time I explored having an operation to relieve the problem from the fall. You can't go private in Canada. The US was about $65,000, Thailand and India were much cheaper. I also found out that the 5 year prognosis was the same for those who had the surgery and those that didn't. Except those that didn't managed the pain better and with therapy relieved it. Obviously that's not true for all conditions, but it was a majority.

I went back to the gym, in the meanwhile and worked on getting leg strength back, better function of my knee, which was affected by the impingement. Both legs are fairly even now, with more strength in the damaged affected side, but less fine motor control. Although the shape of each leg is slightly different and in the one the muscles "shiver" 24/7.

For the neck pain some light weight training repositioned enough things that I now only have a slight (permanent) buzz in my thumb. I also learned to sleep without a pillow, on the "good" side and without moving (mostly). My wife loves that the position means I never snore, bless her.

My take on it is if you possibly can, stay the heck away from surgery. When I finally did see a specialist/surgeon he nixed it anyway, it's Canada, they don't waste procedures.

I have had some success racing since then and it hasn't affected my running, because that always sucked.
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Re: Training and rehab post recovery from Cervical disc / nerve problems - other experiences? [K73] [ In reply to ]
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K73 wrote:


My advise is simply keep fit! Go to gym and do strength training it really helped me a lot (I still do it twice a week).

THIS! My story is a bit different. I was very overweight in my early years which took a toll on my body, finally got in shape (thanks to triathlon.) But... 6 years ago I ended up with a Staph infection that got in my bloodstream and attacked by body. My spine took the brunt of it and my lower discs were massively infected and being destroyed. Ambulance ride to the ER and Intensive care for 24 hours followed by 8 days in the hospital left me unable to walk or support my own weight. Excruciating pain in my spine if I attempted to move. I had completed three 70.3s in the 6 weeks prior to ending up like this so I was in good physical condition when it happened and now I can't move. Doctors basically said it was my fitness that saved my life and stopped things from being much worse. The road back was not easy, a month later I was using one of those walkers with 4 legs to get around while having an IV machine with antibiotics trickling into my arm as my 24 hour companion for 3 months. I had to use strong pain meds for a bit but thankfully got off of them as quick as possible. I have an amazing sports medicine doc who is an Kona finisher and understands the human body and he was key to helping me get through everything. I had a few MRIs while in recovery and I had a spine doc tell me my spine was shot and I needed surgery but I had heard from multiple people that the disc replacement stuff just doesn't really work. I had my sports med doc who is a spine specialist confirm my spine was not looking great, just not much left on a few of my lower discs but I was determined to not let this be the end racing or being healthy/fit (which is often what happens with spine issues... things go down hill fast.) I flew down to IMAZ and volunteered and signed up for the following year with my IV machine still with me (it was quite the sight.. i'm handing out water at an aid station with an IV in my arm and a machine around my chest.) Anyway.. I started training slow.. The bike on the trainer in aero was great because it stabilized my spine but running was a challenge.. I remember the first 1 mile run which was very wobbly and felt impossible. I made it back and went 10:45ish at AZ that year but I continued to learn about my spine issues over the following years. I had a tendency to stop training completely in the offseason and a few months into it I would end up on the ground unable to move in severe back pain (to the point where I once needed the walker again to get around.. I was a mess.) I realized I had zero back issues while I trained and trashed by body through crazy long workouts and intense weeks and no issues after a long grueling races. The only time my back is an issue is if I stop training and being active. So now (at 44yo) I train and race year around and have had zero issues with my spine. My xrays and MRIs are still freighting to look at but at the end of the day everything is working and it seems the absolute best thing for me is to keep training. I do know how excruciating the pain can be but I truly do think that movement and strengthening everything around the spine is the best thing. I wish you the best of luck finding something that works.

______________________________________________
Team Zoot
Coached by tricoachjill
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Re: Training and rehab post recovery from Cervical disc / nerve problems - other experiences? [michael Hatch] [ In reply to ]
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Wow, nothing more motivating than hearing stories far worse than mine! Maybe we need our own sub-forum! Thanks for all the feedback and ideas. I"m encouraged that a lot of what i am doing is what i'm hearing works. Its also encouraging to hear that you guys have been able to make improvements and keep going. I have fully expected i'd be in a 'living with it' mode permanently. As my physio reminds me, it took me a long time to get here and it will be a constant going forward.

Gradually building up, pillow choice, weight training, rolling and stretching, physio and cortisone - all great! Havent tried Chiropractor but have been wondering and now will give it a shot.

So long as i can keep doing the things we all like to do, i'm good. A few twinges and pains are a small price for all the stuff i've done and plan to keep doing. I recently signed up for IM CDA again, this year with my daughter.

Cheers and thanks again to all. Really appreciate so many fast replies, extremely confidence building. Good luck with your own rehab and training!
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Re: Training and rehab post recovery from Cervical disc / nerve problems - other experiences? [Greg R] [ In reply to ]
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Your issues sound very similar to mine. The cervical epidurals have helped, but I have had better relief from RFA. The issue with the RFA is the recovery, this last one, I had both left and right side done, took me 6 weeks to feeling back to normal. But the pain relief should last around a year. If you do one of these do not plan to race for several weeks. Swimming and cycling have caused the most problems, and this season I will be riding a road bike with aero bars instead of my Speed Concept. I am currently training for IMTX and I am feeling good, not pain free, but able to do long training sessions. I did my last RFA on December 15th. No way will I do surgery unless I cannot function day to day. I have two bulging discs at C6-C7 that have pinched nerves, narrowing of the spinal canal, and several bone spurs. Good luck!
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Re: Training and rehab post recovery from Cervical disc / nerve problems - other experiences? [Jamie73] [ In reply to ]
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Jamie, yes, my issues are very similar to yours including the location and bone spurs. Had not heard of "RFA" until you mentioned it so thanks for that.

Despite the head/neck position, i still find my TT bike more comfortable than a road bike. Like you i had planned on using my road bike but was surprised to learn the TT position is much better for my lower back issues and i can tolerate the head/neck position ok so long as i have kept up my postural chain rehab, foam rolling, stretching/yoga. Right now all of my training is on the trainer, which eliminates the aggravation from bumpy roads and pavement so i will see how this goes once the snow is off our roads here. I'm betting a lot more of my bike time will and should be on the trainer. I am using a Kickr Climb now to let me moderate the neck strain occasionally and my TT position is not low at all.

I dont know if anyone has experience with the TENS/Muscle Stim units like the Compex for disc issues. My physio thinks its worth a try so i'm planning to get one.

Thanks again for the advice
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Re: Training and rehab post recovery from Cervical disc / nerve problems - other experiences? [Greg R] [ In reply to ]
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RFA Radiofrequency Ablation The Dr. uses electric impulses to burn nerves that are causing facet nerve pain. It damages the lining of the nerve and prevents the transmission of pain. The nerve repairs itself over time. I had it done on C4-C7 on both sides. You do have to be tested for this procedure to see if you are a good candidate. This is done by numbing the nerve to see if it brings you relief for the following few hours. This is the first time I have been on a road bike, but the few times I have ridden it outside I felt pretty good with it, and I'm on the trainer a lot more then I used to be as well. Big issue with doing a longer race is finishing the swim and jumping right onto the bike.
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Re: Training and rehab post recovery from Cervical disc / nerve problems - other experiences? [Greg R] [ In reply to ]
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Hi there, have not personally suffered from what you are going through but medical doctor here who looks after lots of pain patients.
The rhizotomy procedure described is something seriously worth considering depending on the various causes of the pain you are getting. Rhizotomy procedures can give 3-6 months of pain relief (at least), there are a number of techniques, not just radio frequency. We use cryo and heat mainly. Main downsides, you often get an increase in discomfort for up to two weeks post procedure until things start to settle down again. We do a lot of these procedures on older triathletes as well.
Like has been mentioned, normally a stepwise process to end up with a rhizotomy and not all pathology is suitable. Surgery, when done well, is not that bad all things considered but you need to make sure you have a very good surgeon.
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Re: Training and rehab post recovery from Cervical disc / nerve problems - other experiences? [Greg R] [ In reply to ]
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Feb '17 I bulged the disc between C6-C7. Left arm in bad shape. Swimming was a joke, couldn't ride. Did run (w/discomfort).

Life was miserable. A few months later I got an artificial disc put in and was back to normal the next day (with some weakness in the left arm due to atrophy) Pain gone. Had good enough IM at CDA to KQ (my first time). Kind of a rags to riches story.

YMMV
best of luck.


I could break the course record - theoretically, Bishop Pickering - from the movie "Caddyshack"
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Re: Training and rehab post recovery from Cervical disc / nerve problems - other experiences? [pbnz] [ In reply to ]
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Thanks for the explanations, i'll keep the rhizotomy and cryo in mind. My MD had not explained any options beyond injections, rehab then surgery (but i'm not sure he's too concerned about endurance athlete issues). I will definitely keep those in mind. I'm pondering finding a new MD with more sports/endurance interest and experience as well.
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Re: Training and rehab post recovery from Cervical disc / nerve problems - other experiences? [manofthewoods] [ In reply to ]
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Great to hear your disc replacement went so well, very encouraging should i have to go that route. If your KQ was in June 2017, thats amazing, if it was 2018 you were out there way ahead of me last year in CDA. Congrats on such a terrific rebound.
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Re: Training and rehab post recovery from Cervical disc / nerve problems - other experiences? [Greg R] [ In reply to ]
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I had neck fusion surgery (C5-C6) at end of 2014. I recovered well and have continued endurance sports including ironman. Actually have more range of motion in neck now than prior. I am 55. My symptoms were pain and numbness down arms and in left hand could not longer hold a glass of water, and was deteriorating quickly. I took the plunge and has worked out thus far. Although, the first few months after surgery were rough. Slept upright in lazyboy chair for 5 weeks post-surgery before I could sleep in bed. After that things progressed. Got cleared to ride after a few months and run after 4 months.
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