I was looking for some advice from anyone who's herniated a disc at L4/L5 and/or L5/S1. This happened to me on Sunday, April 17 and my thoughts were confirmed with the physical therapist I saw yesterday. Considering I can walk very gingerly, I know it'll be a while before I'm back to the running form I was in just last week. I'm supposed to run my first marathon May 15. So far everyone has said "Maybe." I'm registered for 2 more marathons this fall and I'm strangely okay with the possibility of not running in May. Luckily, I don't need surgery. I'll be doing physical therapy 2 times a week, chiropracter 2 times a week and accupuncture once a week for at least the next 6 weeks. I'll be heading over to my community pool today where I can at least do some underwater running and use the recumbant bike at the gym for now. So my question is this: How long did it take you to return to running after this kind of injury? Everything I've seen on the internet has said 6-8 weeks to 4-6 months! Thanks in advance!
This has not happened to me (yet), but I have followed up on others in this situation. I admire your courage and work ethic, but is the combined impact of many thousands of marathon footstrikes, many of them under fatigue, the best exercise one could prescribe for your recovery from disk herniation? The pool running sounds good, but the only other kind of running I have seen improvement from is with the aid of coil spring shoes specially designed to minimize impact for injury recovery (yes, they have been used in marathons). Anything in regular shoes, in my opinion, represents a risk you must accept or avoid.
Did the medical personnel try to steer you away from marathoning into shorter races? Did they indicate whether or not marathoning has contributed to the spinal condition? My view is that running is good for the healthy spine, and properly done, tends to make it stronger. I'm sure the PTs are attempting to insure that your form is optimized to this end, as well as to sustain this kind of torture, but the "maybe" is all about that chance you will lose form and do further damage.
There is also a fine balance behind strengthening the core muscles to better support the spine without increasing muscular pressure on the herniated disks. If surgery was avoided, it was probably because the herniation did not directly affect the nerve root exiting the spine. If there is any chance it will, the marathon is not a good idea. This must mean a lot to you, and I believe there could be a marathon in your future, but I would spend the month of May evaluating that possibiity. If it is a hot race you increase the chance of fatiguing sooner. The temperature can rise quickly over a few hours in May.