Disc Herniation/Sciatica

I’m 17 years old, Football Player(RB/DB), Sprinter(100m). I’ve had a disc herniation/sciatica for several months. I hurt it when I was squatting one day, out of nowhere I felt it hurt.

My MRI report says that I did some pretty bad damage to myself. My L3-L4, L4-L5, and L5-S1 are all in bad shape.

So far I’ve been going to Physical Therapy for about 8 weeks. I get Spinal Decompression therapy over there. I’ve had two Epidural Steroid Injections that have helped some. I’ve also tried acupuncture and didn’t notice anything. This is about all that I’ve done, and I do plan on getting a third ESI if nothing else seems to work.

With all of this treatment, I still have sciatica down my left leg when I do my straight leg raise. At my age, every doctor expected me to be healed by now. Right now I’m missing out on my SR football season that I worked so hard for since I was 12.

As far as training goes, I’m doing tons of BW exercises. Pushups, pullups, lunges, bulgarians, squats, birddogs, dips. I even do some machine work, and some stuff on a total gym.

I’m also considering surgery now that nothing else is working. A discectomy is probably what I’ll get.

My main goal right now is just to get some preparation for track. Track starts around February for me, but if I were to get surgery would track be out of the question?

Describe the spinal decompression therapy.


Skip through the testimonials. It should describe it during 5:20 or so.

I’ll go ahead and describe it as well. You lie down with your legs elevated. It has a machine that stretches your lumbar spine and discs. This allows bloodflow through the discs to allow them to heal. Its decompressing/unloading the spine.

You might want to try an ELDOA stretch for the L5-S1 segment. Rather than a gross traction through the whole spine, ELDOAs produce targeted traction on specific vertebral segments.

Here is a link to a BFS newletter that shows a diagram of the L5-S1 ELDOA:


With that reference image in mind, here is a more detailed description of the stretch:

  • Lie on floor, legs straight up against wall
  • Internally rotate legs, pseudoinvert feet
  • Arms extended overhead on ground, externally rotated, hands dorsiflexed
  • Flatten spine against floor, extend through top of head

You can also find a description of some other ELDOAs (including L5-S1) here:


I hope this can be of some use to you.

Highly, highly, highly suggest against surgery. Any surgery with the back and nerves is generally bad news. There’s just too many horror stories about back surgeries and surgery should always be the utmost last resort. It’s just not worth it, at all.

If spinal decompression is beneficiary for you then incorporate it into your daily life. Doing it for however long your physical therapy session is isn’t going to overcome the other 15 hours or so that you’re awake and compressing your spine.

In this same vein, my father is an osteopath and radiologist and the general rule of thumb he has used for years is to never let someone operate on your back unless you are losing sensation in your legs. The long term prognosis is pretty much the same with or without surgery. After years of followup diagnosis and evaluation he has yet to see anyone receive long term benefit from back surgery, and they usually end up with additional problems from the surgery.

I recommend surgery if you have given it time and tried other things first.

I herniated my L4-L5 and L5-S1 disks when I was 20 years old. I tried all sorts of things for about 8 months before getting surgery. I had been in terrible pain etc.

The surgery was like flicking off a switch (the pain was gone). During recovery I had to hold back, because I felt like I could lift anything.
I switched to sumo deadlifts, and was lifting more than ever within 1 year. I competed for another 10 years until my rotator cuffs went.

Today (18 years later), my back feels great, and I can do deep squats with no belt.

I’m almost on the same boat as you are. I feel like I’ve tried every option. But if I get surgery then I’d most likely be out for 6-12 months and miss my SR year of track. I’ll probably get a 3rd ESI, and see how that works until I get surgery.

I’ll descibe my pain. First, I don’t really feel pain in my back. I feel nerve irritation when doing a lying straight leg raise which is most likely caused by the disc herniation.

I rarely had pain in my back. It was down my right leg. From leg raise etc…

Just remember that you can’t undo surgery…so think twice.

Most important of all is your long term health, not athletic performance. What you do not want to do is incur permanent damage at such a young age. Whichever treatment option you choose, make sure not to push yourself too hard while you recover.

I agree. Don’t base the decision on one season of track. You need to get healthy longterm.

I was thinking of doing an endoscopic disc surgery. I’ll have to sit down and talk with a surgeon to see whats the best option.

Ok, is there a chance that I could possibly have piriformis syndrome by any chance instead of nerve irritation caused by the disc herniation?

My PT says that he highly doubts it just because its very rare to see a case of piriformis syndrome. But everytime he puts pressure on my glutes, the sciatica either stays in one spot or goes down the leg. He can also trigger-point which area of my glutes causes the sciatica by seeing if the area is tender or not.

Am I making any sense?

I’d say you should treat it as though it is pf syndrome. if that doesn’t seem to be working then maybe it is time to reassess…

Just a suggestion, but as a supplement to your current therapy, you might want to get a copy of the Trigger Point Workbook by Clair Davies.


I’ve been touting it for years. It’s designed for self treatment and is really useful for diagnosing sources of pain. All you really need is a tennis ball to do most of the techniques. Regardless of the source of your pain, I can almost guarantee that you have at least some trigger points in the muscles around the area.

I agree. If you look at this logically. I’m 17 years old, been doing Spinal decompression therapy for 10 weeks, been through two ESIs, done countless number of traction and back exercises. I’m sure that anybody would have expected m to be healed by now. There are also a lot of people who have a disc herniations with zero pain.

Based on what I’ve read, my sciatica looks like it is caused by piriformis syndrome rather than my so called disc herniation.

Also on my straight leg raise, my sciatica has always started from my glute down to my feet rather than my lower back down to my feet. So this really sounds like piriformis.

I went to my Neuro Doctor yesterday. He says that my sciatica is caused by my L5-S1 rather than piriformis syndrome. My Sciatica is improving though. On my straight leg raise, I only feel the sciatica down at my feet instead of the horrible pain going down my glutes and hams.

He is going to allow me to get back into jogging again. As far as exercise sections goes, I’m going to continue with the bodyweight stuff, machine stuff, and the core stability. Hopefully I will be able to get back to sprinting by next month!

I also plan on getting another MRI done very soon.

I had friends with less serious herniated disks who recovered eventually without surgery.

If you do get better I’ll make a suggestion.

Reading your journal last year, you seemed to enter a lot of PL meets (sometimes a few weeks apart). You should never enter more than about 3 PL meets per year (and that’s true even if you are only doing powerlifting, let alone all the other sports you are in).

I agree. My coaches made me do it so I didn’t really have a choice. It was overkill. The coaches would make us do a full heavy lifting workout the day before every PL meet and Track meet. I never had the guts to refuse to do the workouts, so now I’m regretting ever doing those workouts. I won’t have to deal with those coaches anymore though.

I don’t plan on doing PL again this year. I may not even squat again since I did this much damage to myself. I’ll find some alternatives when the time comes, hopefully thats shortly!