Climbing with a herniated disc?

New Topic
This topic has been archived, and won't accept reply postings.
 Tigger 23 Nov 2021


I've seen a few other posts on the topic but was wondering if anyond had a fresh prespective.

I've been having back pains for a few weeks now, I'm currently awaiting X-Ray results for a more accurate diagnosis, but I suspect I've got a herniated L5-S1 (based and symptoms and on stretches I'm doing that aleviate the pain). Bouldering is obviously out atm, but has anyone continued to top-rope indoors with this injury?



Post edited at 12:40
In reply to Tigger:

I tweaked something in my back on 1st August (could have been from any number of sports), but I continued to climb and bike (no running or paddleboarding) for 7 weeks after, thinking I wasn't making it any worse and movement would be good for it.

At 7 weeks I stopped all climbing and biking and saw Osteopath for 2 weeks with no real improvement (i was experiencing really acute pain in hip, outside calf etc - so undeniably S1/L5 like you).

Getting nowhere with osteo and still weeks away from a physio NHS referral I got a private MRI for £300. It showed up I had nerve root impingement in L5 but no full nerve root compression. Thankfully meaning I just had to wait it out, and didn't require surgery.

At this point I was still trying the youtube-self-education ESSENTIAL FIXES for the issue, but not really improving. When I finally got to the physio, she said to just stop everything for 3 weeks. Only light movement as I could barely lift my leg beyond 20 degrees with toes up at ceiling when lying down.

At 11 weeks I resumed really gentle and slow climbing once/twice a week for about a month, and now at the end of November (over 18 weeks since I first noticed the problem) I'm climbing better than I was before.

Long story short, do not rush anything. I couldn't believe how long this took to sort itself out from a position of being in really good shape, and I apparently repeatedly reaggravated my issue numerous times when getting ahead of myself during recovery through impatience.

Allow the massive post, I now have a HUGE amount of empathy with people with back pain, and was desperate for reassurance that it'd fix from others who'd had similar. It was one of the toughest periods of my life going from exercise 7 days a week to zero.

Did my first ever indoor 7a last week.

Chin up and take it easy.

In reply to Tigger:

I’ve had surgery etc years ago now. I agree with Matt - hang fire. Anything that could risk making it worse needs to be completely avoided. I carried on climbing and think it made it worse. 

 raincloud 23 Nov 2021
In reply to Bottom Clinger:

I had L4-L5 and L5-S1 herniated together a few years ago as showed on anMRI

6 months off of any climbing - gentle walks and a bit of physio and massage - all good and back to climbing as before around month 7

not the greatest of news you want to hear but you have to play the long game

OP Tigger 23 Nov 2021

Thanks for the advice, I've got a decent physio and a good Osteopath I've used before, there's also a Chiropractor 5 mins down the road.

Hopefully my GP will be in touch within a week with results and I'll be able to take it from there. Thoigh if the X-Ray doesn't show much, I'm not sure if they'll just end up sending me for an MRI in which case I could be waiting weeks atm.  

 petemeads 23 Nov 2021
In reply to Tigger:

I was struck down by sciatica on 1st June, could hardly get out of bed for the electric-shock sensations, could not straighten up or lie flat. Internet said L4/L5, chiropractor agreed and did standard manipulations over 4 or 5 visits but improvement was slow. As long as I was bent forwards (shopping-trolley syndrome) I was OK so could use indoor and outdoor biking for exercise. Tried bouldering at 4 weeks but too unpleasant. Eventually tried a physio who has IDD machines which play you like a concertina - 42 kg force (yes, I know it should be in Newtons but that's what the manufacturer says) applied between hips and chest, relaxed, then repeated for 15 minutes. I could feel the pain disappear as my spine was 'distracted', and return as the cycle progressed. Definitely helping, can run again and boulder ok - the stretches I have been doing have made me more flexible and I can do pistol squats that have been impossible for years, but there is still an impingement that catches from time to time. Physio would have me visiting every week (45 quid a time) but I would like to see an MRI to know exactly how the nerve is being trapped. I got an appointment with the NHS Orthopaedic consultant in August, for mid-January, but this has already been cancelled with no alternative offered yet. Private MRI seems like the way to go, availability within a few days in Solihull for under £300 - assuming they can cope with my hip metalwork.

OP Tigger 24 Nov 2021
In reply to petemeads:

Thanks, I had a look at private MRI scans, does the £300 just cover one area i.e the Lumbar spine?

In reply to Tigger:

I'm going to make myself unpopular here by sounding a note of caution.

The MRI might not help as much as you might think - the incidence of disc herniation on MRI rises steadily across age groups even without symptoms. It gets really complicated teasing out the incidental findings from the true ones and in the over 70s, 3 in 4 will have disc herniation even in the absence of any symptoms. So despite the apparent "proof" if the MRI doesn't fit with symptoms, treat based on symptoms anyway - so you could argue there's no real benefit to getting the MRI...

This tends to be contrary to what we believe i.e. the test to prove a diagnosis are useful, and the ones you can see and understand are even better. Other than excluding other more serious (i.e. dangerous not "just" uncomfortable)  conditions, there's often little overall gain from the more expensive test and always a risk that someone might want to operate on the basis of imaging features (the more MRIs the more spinal surgery, as a rule of thumb - and that's not necessarily a good thing).

I suspect you may be better spending the cash on a good physiotherapist, who understands injury and recovery in a climbing sense. Or a sports medicine physician. 

Either way, I agree with the advice not to overdo it early on but keep active and it will usually recover significantly in the standard unit of orthopaedic time i.e. 6 weeks.

Good luck!


OP Tigger 24 Nov 2021
In reply to ben b:

To tell the truth L5-S1 is the worst spot, but I've also got na very tender area around T10/11 that isn't improving at all, as well as a stiff neck and intermittent tingling in my thumb, I guess it's all linked some how, I just need to find the cause.

I intend to do everything I can to avoid surgery (I don't think it's that bad anyway), but may get an MRI anyway just to ensure that it's nothing that a physio can't sort.

 Davy Gunn 24 Nov 2021
In reply to Tigger:

I had a full on disc herniation with loss of leg control, radiculopathy and loss of muscle mass. Having had a #neck and previous lumbar injury and lots of other A/E time I can say this was both the most painful and disabling injury I have ever had in lots of ways. Level 10 pain and months of rehab. It was treated with some disdain by A/E and sent home with tramadol and told it would get better with time despite being carried in and out by two friends. A private MRI and consultation at the Nuffield Hospital showed the extent of the blow out and snotty letter from the Nuffield consultant to the A/E that saw me was sent and advice that I should walk into a city hospital and they would probably admit me given the state I was in. Cost me £460 all in, 5 years ago and worth every penny. Referred to neuro but it took 5 months to get an appointment via NHS as too skint to go private. Month 1 was hell on earth.  Tramadol, Gabapentin and Voltarol. Month 2 walking a little more each week, month 3 back on a bike and riding ok despite right leg unable on its own to know how to get over the top of a pedal stroke, and occasional trip as nerves damaged. I think I could have climbed easy indoor stuff at month 2. What I would say is that everything with some care, as irritating the nerves sets you back a lot. If your a climber your motivated, but listen to your body and rehab starts gently end month 1 and if done right progress is steady and progressive with care . At month 5 neuro guy looked at the original MRI and said I should have had the op. He asked me to move about and said my movement and progress was amazing considering the injury and so deferred an op to see if the progress continued, which it did. A good sports physio is a real help for rehab, and patience. I am glad I didn't go down the osteopath manipulation route when the first symptoms appeared as I reckon I would now be in a wheelchair.  If I could go back I would have had the op if offered in the first month but rehab can work but takes ages. I could only climb harder after 2 years but I am an old git.  I now do a lot of core work and Yoga and lattice and at 65 back on sighting 6c, redpoint some 7a and even throw myself at an odd 7b although most often spat off. Very careful bouldering landings and just given up on hard trad as can't afford to hit the ground. Nerve pain from the original disc prolapse is never far away if poor technique in weights or lifting and some dynamic twisting wall moves. Still a little leg weakness on one side, maybe 5% less. Not noticeable climbing but a little skiing.  Disc herniation is shite if its a full on one.  My advice to a younger self would be look after your back and what you think is a strong core as a climber probably isn't. Sorry for the epistle. Its serious and underestimated injury. Most older folk will have bulging discs and live with it but they are not climbers. Just come up with a plan that prevents a prolapse. It shouldn't stop you climbing hard if you have a good sports physio assessment and given some work to protect your back.

Post edited at 11:49
OP Tigger 25 Nov 2021
In reply to Davy Gunn:

Wow, it's incredible what the body can recover from with a good physio and sensible rehab, you've got quite a story!

May I ask who you're physio is and where they're based?

 donrobson 26 Nov 2021
In reply to ben b:

I have a distant memory of CT scans being reported for patients with back problems and others being done for e.g. abdominal problems. The radiologists found similiar numbers of disc abnormalities in both groups.

Andy Gamisou 27 Nov 2021
In reply to Tigger:

Feel your pain (literally).  Yesterday got results of an MRI that showed bilateral foraminal stenosis (and some mildy concerning blood tests) impacting on the descending nerve roots. I had an MRI a few years ago that showed some degeneration, but it seems to have deteriorated somewhat.  Now awaiting appointment with an specialist, but surgery seems likely.

To answer your question, climbing for some years has been pretty much the only exercise I could do that didn't aggravate my various lumbar woes - in fact actually seemed to help them a bit.  Last few weeks haven't been to walk more than a few steps though, so even that's been out.

Good luck with it.

Post edited at 05:20
 Root1 27 Nov 2021
In reply to Tigger:

Mobility helps. I have found both climbing and hill walking a big help

 energico 28 Nov 2021
In reply to Tigger:


I've had 2 bouts of spinal injury and the latest one was grade 2 spondilolysthesis of L4. I had it for over 40 years, beginning at grade 1, but, through army training and operational duty it got massively worse. If you're a veteran, even a reserve, you'd get priority treatment. However, being a rehabilitation instructor in the army, I should have known better, but, I was also special forces (SF) and parachuting then walking 10s of miles with heavy loads has impacted greatly. If you're not a veteran, get the MRI as soon as possible, don't delay as this would only hide the real problem, £300 is nowt in this case.

We don't have X-ray eyes and nor do we possess MRI eyes, so, get help ASP. Its always been a trait of medical experts to wait until you're desperate for an op, or merely give you pain medication and tell you to rest; don't listen, get the MRI. I'm 65, just had the op a year ago and wish I'd done it 10 years ago. Now I'm climbing and running just as hard when I was 40 as an elite fell runner, grade WI6 climber and avid cross country ski tour leader. Do yourself and family a favour, get the MRI.

OP Tigger 29 Nov 2021
In reply to energico:

Thanks for the advice, I've got private cover through work that starts on Jan 1st if I haven't got answers by then I may have need if it (fortunately there's no exemptions for pre existing conditions). Though I do hate that fact that I've basically been forced to take the cover out becasue the NHS has been intentionally run into the ground.

 mian zafar 30 Nov 2021
In reply to Tigger:

No need to be desperate for reassurance. It was one of the toughest periods but mobility helps. and take a good rest with low exercise and soon you have found both climbing indoor and walking on a hill a big help to you.

 Davy Gunn 03 Dec 2021
In reply to Tigger:

I live in Glencoe and I was treated at

The lady physio specialises in sports injury and treats some top mountaineers and climbers as well as joe average ones like me.

In reply to ben b:

> I'm going to make myself unpopular here by sounding a note of caution.

> The MRI might not help as much as you might think -

But, but , but....its a giant magnetic field, surely it will be helpful?!

 climbingup 04 Dec 2021
In reply to Tigger:

I've had spondy for my entire life and have herniated my L5 multiple times. It's going to be a process to get back, but luckily most recover just fine. It'll be annoying and I suggest taking off as much time as will wreck yourself if you jump in too early. Therefore, I wouldn't suggest top roping until you are 4-6+ weeks out, or can at least go throughout an entire week without noticing much pain. 

On the flipside, I recently had surgery and while I look forward to getting back out there, I am afraid my skills will take a few steps back. It'll be months before I can get back out and climb again and now my legs are literally 2 inches longer lol. Luckily this break was self inflicted, but ya'll wish me luck getting back into it.

Post edited at 23:35
OP Tigger 08 Dec 2021
In reply to Dr.S at work:

Well if it flagged up something that I could get sorted I take it atm. Still in pain, still no results thus far apparently my the radiology department sent the results to my GP on the 22nd of November (according to a conversation I had with radiology today) , I've called my GPs 4 times since between the 25th and now, they've just kept saying  qe haven't received them yet please call in a couple of days.

In reply to Tigger:

Fair do’s, the delay in getting diagnostics back must be really frustrating!

OP Tigger 10 Dec 2021
In reply to Dr.S at work:

Finally sorted my GPs asked me to call Radiology and ask that they email the report sirect to the GP admin team, I've got a meeting next week to discuss.

Though to be honest this wouldn't be the first a report that the hospital in question has told me letters have been sent only for me to have to ring them to have them sent again.

I've also had several appointments that have been confirmed as phone consultations only for me not to recieve a call and then 3 days later I've recieve a letter informing me that I miss an appointment that was meant to be in person.

I respect that they're busy and over-whelmed, but letters being lost and basic admin errors could cost someone a lot more than the minor irritation I've suffered.

New Topic
This topic has been archived, and won't accept reply postings.
Loading Notifications...