Q+A: My back has stiffened completely. Help!

Our experts answer real-life questions

Posted: 9 September 2000
by Martin Haines

Q I suffered from pain in my hip and back for about 12 months. Then my back suddenly stiffened completely while I was out running and I had to stop. It has been variously diagnosed as a slipped disc and a trapped L4 nerve, but after treatment and lots of rest, the problem is still there. X-rays show nothing, I haven’t run for 10 months and I need help!

A Happily, I think that a slipped disc is unlikely. You don’t mention having any leg pain, nor that there is any joint narrowing on your x-ray. The two are not always indicative of slipped discs, but combined with your description of your symptoms, and the gradual onset, it seems an unlikely cause.

I think the most likely diagnosis is therefore a trapped L4 nerve, at least in part. However, the L4 problem is usually associated with pelvic problems, such as a rotated sacro-iliac joint in your pelvis, so this needs to be double-checked. Assuming that the joints are now moving well after your treatment, we need to look the muscles and nerves.

You don’t mention whether you’ve been given any exercises for your back or hips, and this is crucial if you’re to make any meaningful progress. You need to find someone who can offer you some specific exercises for both the pelvis and the spine that can re-educate them to work properly again. After a year or so of problems, your muscles will most likely be in so much spasm that they will be unable to work properly to protect and stabilise your spine and pelvis. Hence, whenever you put them under pressure – for instance, by running – the problem will return.

You have to re-educate your muscles, and the best way to do this is by having regular massage to your spine and hips (to teach them to relax), regular re-education exercises for the muscles (to teach them to contract properly) and also mobility exercises for the spine. In addition, you need a full stretching programme for the muscles and nerves that relate to your hips and spine.

Martin Haines, chartered physiotherapist and sports injury specialist

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trapped nerve, back, slipped disc

Discuss this article

I read with great intrest your q+a on back's.I had a herniated l5 s1 disc nov 2002,did'nt run for 6mths,struggled back to running,only doing half the amount of training i used to do.Now for the past few months i've been getting pain in my back as before,although not the pain that went down into my foot as before.What treatment should i seek,im desperate.
Posted: 03/04/2005 at 15:50

I have the same problem.I have not run properly for 7 mths. I have had an MRI scan and seen a spinal surgeon who has recommended fusion of L5/S1 to get rid of the back pain. I am holding off hoping that my body will sort it out naturally by fibrosis etc; but reading your story is quite dispiriting!
Posted: 03/04/2005 at 22:31

Have both of you tried visiting an osteopath? It's not that I don't trust doctors and surgeons but they have a different view on matters! Find a good osteopath who understands that you want to run and see what they can do.

I had a disc problem years ago. First osteopath I went to said "definitely no running ever, very bad for your back". The osteopath I've been going to for the last 4 years said "Why not? If it starts to hurt your back, come back to me for a visit and we'll see what we can do".

I'm now running 40+ miles a week and my back's never felt so good. That said, you need to be aware of the associated problems that can arise - tight hamstrings, over-reliance on one side of the body etc and seek treatment as necessary, go for sports massage etc
Posted: 03/04/2005 at 23:13

Thanks for the replyson the back[disc ]injury.I saw the back specialist this week,& he diagnosed the same problem as before,same disc.He suggested ishould give it time to see if it heals like before,not to overdo things.i even asked about running& he knew how important it is to me,&said only you will know what you can do.I will see him again in a few mths to see how things are,&also update another MRI scan this yr,failing that,if in a yrs time it is still the same,possibly a discectomy,i would think very long&hard about that.Had osteophahy treatment once,she never mentioned disc to me.It put me off any treatment again.Im staying possitive,& will give it time,&will try a gentle run end of the week.I would like to sa to any one out there sufferingwith a back,a brilliant book on backs is SARAH KEY'S BACK SUFFERES'BIBLEit's like reading about yourself.Never give up essepecialy on the running.Would love to hear from anyone else who has any suggestions.
Posted: 09/04/2005 at 17:22

I have damaged L5. Never properly diagnosed because I gave up badgering the NHS as a waste of time. Quack quite happy to prescribe Celebrex.

Point being, 9 times out of 10, running helps, the tenth it makes it worse but they are acceptable odds. I am convinced regular movement, exercise, increased bloodflow all help, certainly in the short term, longer term no idea.

Gets pretty bad when it swells up into a painful lump though. best treatment I find is to massage it and push it back down again.
Posted: 09/04/2005 at 21:14

I suffered the same L5/S1 disc prolapse in December 2001
I started running again in 2004 I still suffer from soreness in my leg
for a few days after I run I see a sports chiropractor every 3 months
and used to run with a back support on he has advised running without it
I have started having acupuncture and I would highly recommend it I had
tried everything else
Posted: 19/04/2005 at 11:03

It'snice to here you are not the only one with a back problem,although i dont wish any injury on anyone,but sometimes you feel your all alone with your own injury.i suppose after having this problem before i know that i got back to some kind of running again,nothing like i used to do,but that's something i accept now as a little is better than nothing at all. this time though i dont want to leave it as long as before (6mths)as it was so hard to start again,it was like starting from the begining again,cant believe how much fittness i'd lost.So i keep telling myself i've done it before,i'll do it again.my moto is,if you want to do something you will,believe in yourself.
Posted: 20/04/2005 at 09:30

Hi all
Very nervous about posting.

I am having big problems with L4 pressing on S1 (I think that is right-can double check at hospital next week).

Problems started with sciatica last november but prior to that had niggles in calf/hamstring that I now think werent muscle based.

Have constant discomfort and tightness across the base of my back and have poor reflexes down right leg/ankle. Last sept I was all prepared to run 13miles and had to pull out of Windsor half in first mile due to pain (thought to be muscle) have not managed to run successfully since.

I really miss running and when I saw the consultant the other week he was rather pathetic and has passed me onto pain management rather than looking at treating the cause of the problem. I want to be out running but walking for 10mins can be painful enough and I have times where I dont have my footing and end up tripping/falling.

It really is hard and dont know what the solution is any more. As I say back to physio on Monday to get her opinion after the consultants appt.

Hope I havent prattled on too long just frustrated, angry and upset and want to be out running!


PS Apologies for picture clothing its associated to another thread-I am not normally so undressed!
Posted: 20/04/2005 at 11:06

Hi have you had an mri scan yet if not I would insist on asking for one this will tell you what the problem is so they will be able to treat it correctly also have you tried a chiropractor this may help
Posted: 20/04/2005 at 12:29

Hi Pepe
Consultant doesnt want to do an mri as can pin point problem without so it would seem. This made me really mad as if he can pinpoint the problem why cant he treat it?

I have tried two different osteopaths for relief before Christmas and have been having physio since Feb 14th. Just frustrated. As I say will see what the physio says next week.

I am so glad I have found this thread as it means I am with people who understand and are going through very similar stuff.
Posted: 20/04/2005 at 12:51

As i sit here and write this, i am recovering from a recent L5/S1 micro discectomy. (2 weeks ago)

I first suffered from my prolapsed disc @ 4 years ago through playing competetive squash. Having seen countless physio's, chiro's, sports therapists etc for the last few years, i finally went the surgical route.

As i know how mentally and physically dabilitative this can be, i would be happy to answer any questions, or offer any advice i can to those that are interested.

For anyone that is please feel free to e-mail me. Premfit@aol.com
Posted: 26/04/2005 at 20:23

Hi Lesley,

I think you sent me an e-mail a while ago, apologies for not getting back to sooner. I have lost the original message (my comp has deleted it) If you would like to mail me again, i will get straight back to you.

Posted: 18/05/2005 at 15:34

Hows the surgery recovery going BTL?

ANd which one is S1? Above or below?

And because it hurts I am going to moan. My back hurts and pressing on the sacro joint REALLY hurts.

There. Better now.
Posted: 18/05/2005 at 15:40

Hi Lesley,
Ive read Sarah Key's book and am currently waiting for amazon to send me her latest......'Back in Action.Ive suffered from Disc,facet joint problems for a few years,i know how depressing it can all get!Mail me if you want to chat!
Posted: 28/06/2005 at 11:33

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