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Old 12-01-07, 02:35 PM   #1
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Bulging Disk Experience

Have been dealing with a lot of neck and shoulder issues for the past 8 months, lots of physical therapy and finally told have a bulging disk in the neck. Anyone had experience with this and how to keep it somewhat at bay so I can still ride, was doing 400-500 miles a month. Was told to take some time off the bike given I ride in the drops a lot. Staring to try and get back but neck is a real pain in the neck.
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Old 12-01-07, 03:25 PM   #2
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Might be time to try a flat bar setup.
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Old 12-01-07, 03:39 PM   #3
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I live and breath with NSAIDs like aleve or advil and they work wonders. It's more than just temporary pain relief. It reduces inflamation and allows aggravated areas to settle down when taken regularly for extended periods. BUT there are potential side effects and the labels correctly warn against long term use. Ask the doctor. They may prescribe naproxin, which is just superstrength aleve.

In my experience (extensive) with lower back pain flare-ups, the first step tends to be NSAIDs, followed by Steroid dose-packs. After that, the level of debilitation will determine whether surgery is justified or just long term pain management and physical therapy to reduce liklihood of future flare-ups.

My flare-ups are only excruciating. They don't include loss of bowel and bladder control or loss of leg function. Surgery is just too risky in my opinion (too many times it either does nothing or makes it worse).

I've been through many cycles of flare-up where it builds steadily for 2-3 weeks into unbearable pain. I contact a doctor and suffer for maybe 2 weeks more waiting for the appointment. By the time I get office visits, MRI analysis, and a remediation plan it is starting to subside on its own. 1 month plus of unbearable pain is not acceptable. So now when I recognize the build-up pattern, I go straight to the pain management center and get an epidural into the offending spinal area that we've experimentally determined works miracles.

I'm not saying this will be your life. But know that I waited way too many cycles and suffered way too long (in that kind of pain life is seriously not worth living) before realizing I had the option of demanding immediate relief for something that just simply comes and goes.
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Old 12-01-07, 05:09 PM   #4
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They are doing a therapy now that involves a computer controlled set up that gently stretches the spine to relieve pressure. works well for some, you'd need to talk to your doctor.

If you practice Yoga you can achieve some of the same results by doing a supported head stand. Its done between two chairs, shoulders on the chairs and head in between so that there isn't any pressure on the neck itself. You might also try inversion with one of the commercially available products. But basically they all use the same principal and work by reversing the normal pressure/weight that is impacting the disc.

If it gets bad your doc may suggest the epidural cortisone injections, I found them painful but helpful. Sadly I reinjured my neck after the course of injections and ended up having the fusion surgery.

Now that you have hurt your spine there is a good chance it won't ever be quite the same, you need to find the things that work for you out of what is available, NSAID's will certainly help and the surgery should always be a last resort.

I certainly agree with Dave that the kind of pain and debilitation that can result from not treating it promptly can make life a pure misery, and may lead to permanent problems of other sorts ( I have lost quite a bit of the strength and function of the triceps in my left arm due to the nerve damage) fixing the problem should be a higher priority then continuing to ride, wiht the goal of course being that once your better you can resume doing the things you enjoy.
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Old 12-01-07, 05:20 PM   #5
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Do you have your bike stem up, level with the seat? The nitto technomic quill stem saved me from giving up road biking. Of course, there is always a recumbent bike, but nothing beats riding the drops. I been living with arthritis in the neck vertebrae for many, many years.
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Old 12-01-07, 05:27 PM   #6
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Get the stem up. If you are using skinny tires, get fatter ones. If the bike
won't take fatter tires.... maybe it's time to think about getting one that can.

+1 on the Technomic stems.

You could also get a trainer. No bouncing, no jouncing...
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Old 12-01-07, 05:52 PM   #7
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Buy a bent

mine arrives in the country next week so I'm practicing being a new convert
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Old 12-01-07, 06:18 PM   #8
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I have the same problem, was hoping someone here would have a miracle cure. :-) My discomfort isn't too bad, but it does impact my sleeping and I am glad I bought the 500 count ibuprofen last time I was shopping.

I plan to try a chiropractor first. If it gets much worse I will have to convert to a bent, but at least then I get to shop for a new bike!

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Old 12-01-07, 06:27 PM   #9
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Actually Mark, I'd look for a bent anyway. Sure, a lot of people move to them for medical reasons, but a lot of riders don't have medical problems and still find the bent a great way to go. In your case, seeing you've got a few 'issues', give them a go - a new experience, a new way to ride and consider any help to the back a bonus.

In my case, it's trapped nerves that turn my hands numb when on the bike (and at other times), but really, that's just the trigger that got me to make the move 'now'.

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Old 12-01-07, 08:48 PM   #10
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In short, yes. results of my learning the hard way.
My treatment was a mix of conventional and unconventional, see below.

1. See a doc.
2. Get an MRI.
3. See a neurologist
4. He may give you a prescription muscle relaxant. (I hate Zanaflex (Tizanidine), makes me feel like hell the next day, but Neurologist may prescribe, but the one I took helped initially relax the neck muscles)

5. Take 4 weeks off the bike, give nerves a chance to really heal.

6. Raise your handlebars. even if it means above saddle level. Use the hoods and the curves and the tops. the more hand positions the better. Avoid the drops. I have a nitto technomics long stem on my steel bike and I am looking for a Look adjustable for my new build.

7. Consider possible alternative treatment from a real good acupuncturist.

PS. Flat bars does not give you the same options variety as drops, but avoid the drop part and use the hoods, curves, and tops instead.


You may want to research this forum and other like it for lots more on this subject. There's more.

DISCLAIMER The following is for the original poster and other cervical disk pain sufferers that follow. ...

Neck pain, neck disk herniations and cyclists are unfortunately all to well acquained. But I think many cyclists suffer in relative silence and do not talk about it much.

C 4/5, C 5/6 herniations (per the MRI) did it for me. What a nightmare.

It built up over the spring, from casual neck pain after rides into a complete herniated mess.

(I didn't think much of it at first, but it sure got my attention some time back in June., when it built into what I'd call "level 7.5 to 8 pain" and neck shoulder lock-up.)

After Zanaflex and neck exercises, I was a little better, say pain level 6.5 to 7. But avoided the bike for 2-3 weeks.

After going to the neurologist -- on a good day -- for an upper body EMG (not pleasant at all) to detect nerve damage, he declared me OK for a conservative treatment.

Ironically, shortly after the neurologist visit, the numbness -— which is a burning, painful numbness as only disk patients can understand -- kicked in. So what use the EMG was, who the hell knows. What Do I do? Take serious addictive drugs and go back and say the EMG was wrong?

Now I had significant pain level 6.5 to 7.5, and numbness from neck to shoulder to thumb. Oxycodone was basically useless against the pain anyway, and Advil wasn't getting it done either, and was killing my stomach, to boot. So for me, like others, it was "welcome to 24/7 pain, forearm and thumb numbness, intense shoulder pain, lack of sleep and trying to do a difficult job in the daytime."

But since level 6.5 to 7 pain was better than 7.5 to 8, and my vacation time was upon me, I kept cycling lightly (no more than 15 miles) through August. Some days were better than others. But one day

The pain and numbness after my last cycling and surfing sessions was unrelenting. So I decided to shut it down and take a different path.

I went to see a highly recommended (4 separate recommendations, including one from a whiplash victim) veteran Chinese doctor/acupuncturist in Queens, NY who people travel for miles for treatment.

She studied my recent medical records, from blood work to MRI results. Did a full questionnaire. Although she was an acupuncturist first, her approach was essentially holistic, not just acupuncture, but a complete regimen of advice and exercises.

Now, understand she is pretty strict: On her recommendation, I shut down my cycling, running, surfing, windsurfing and golf, in September. Avoided any pulling, pushing, weight lifting, excess torque.

For 8 weeks to two months this drove me a little bananas, to say the least, but my happy dog got more walking sessions in than he ever has in his life. Brisk Dog-Walking became my sole exercise.

Very likely shutting down all those things gave my body, and nerve damage, a chance to repair itself. And without a doubt that rest was a major factor in my partial recovery.

The acupuncture (with with added electrical stimulus took about 5-to-6 sessions for me to say I was feeling better).

By session 7 to 8 I was more or less pain free, in terms of living a regular citizen's life without major physical exertion. So, of course, feeling confident I decide to test it. But we are cyclists and we need our pain right? So not content with that, I got back gym, light treadmill jogging, a little surfing and a little middle-intensity-windsurfing, within 2.5 months.

Since I was feeling good and fine, 2 days later I went for a bucket of swings at the range. Probably a bad idea. The torque involved in a big-guy swing, and my lost form, gave me a flare up.

I am still recovering from that. Pain is a manageable without pain killers level 1 to 3.5.

I will lay off the golf until at least the spring. BUT I hope to resume cycling very gradually soon on a real bike. I know for you all, that is the "acid test."

IMPORTANT NOTE: the acupuncture effect was never immediate.
Sometimes there was actually increased pain 1 to 1.5 days later followed by greatly reduced pain 3 days after the session. It was as if there was some kind feeling and restoration going on with the nerves in the neck shoulder forearm and thumb.

Today my thumb and triceps is no longer numb, and both have normal sensation. There is still, on bad days a very little bit of residual numbness in a patch of skin atop left forearm.

Aside from that, I cannot lift the same weights I used to, but I can still do pushups and all that good stuff.

Last edited by rideorglide; 12-01-07 at 08:53 PM.
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Old 12-01-07, 08:54 PM   #11
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My crystal ball shows a recumbent in your future. An EZ Sport eliminated all of my low back, shoulder and neck problems. It's not the fastest bike around , but I sure get a great workout that doesn't aggravate my 59 year old body. bk
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Old 12-01-07, 09:34 PM   #12
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I could barely walk two years ago due to a bulging disc. Had a handicap placard for my car and was riding the electirc carts in the grocery store. Sometimes I was on crutches. The good news is that with physical therapy, a higher stem, time and a bit of luck, I was back on the bike by summer, In fact, I took two week-long tours, rode my age on my birthday and did a number of metric centuries.

Even though I feel better, I still do the exercises most days. If my back feels twingy (which I can recognize now), I ease up. By all means, get the MRI and any other appropriate tests. A good physical therapist is also vital. One final hint: If you don't feel you're getting the right care, keep looking, even if it takes a second, third or fourth opinion. And whatever you do, don't give up.
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Old 12-02-07, 07:21 AM   #13
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I was diagnosed with 3 "collapsed" cervical discs in August. I've been off the bike since then, hopefully will return in the spring. The doc had me get a "home, over the door traction" device. Basically some ropes and cables with a water bag attached at one end, and me at the other. Fifteen minutes a day, gradually increasing the weight in the water bag. This, combined with some excersizes and heat, and I'm feeling pretty decent. But at the doc's insistence, will stay off the bike till the spring. Once I start up riding again, I will make a point of doing the traction thing immediately after a ride. (The collapsed discs caused a pinched nerve, and that was the painful part)
Another possibility for the spring is a 'bent. Undecided as of yet.
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Old 12-02-07, 08:09 AM   #14
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had disc problems in 1993 L4-5 had surgery did fine till 2007 then had to have spinal shots md said give up biking but i found that when back fkared up a short ride with flat bars seemed to help now 7 months after spinal blocks doing much better but have found when to ride and when not hoping you the best ps tried chiropractor almost ruined back
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Old 12-02-07, 10:29 AM   #15
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I had a ruptured disk in my neck 15 years ago, and had surgery to correct it. I still can't bend my neck in the position required by a DF. Last June I rediscovered the joys of bicycling again, when I bought a 'bent. I'm in heaven, and my neck, back, and butt are totally comforatable, even on rides over 100 milies.
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Old 12-02-07, 11:11 AM   #16
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I, fortunately, have never had neck or back troubles, but I've known lots of people who have. I know a lot of people who swear by microdiskectomy. If the doctor tell you to consider surgery, it's likely a good option.
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Old 12-02-07, 04:36 PM   #17
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Great input and lots of things to think about. I have found that the exercises I've been given do help. Have found that I can go about 20 miles on the bike before having to stop. For the time being my 30-50 miles rides are off. I also just got one of those over the door traction devices so will keep at that. Thanks for sharing your experiences and various treatments. I also agree with many of you that a bent may be in my future.
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Old 12-02-07, 08:44 PM   #18
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No neck discs but have had terrible L1-5 problems. Tried physiotherapy, chiropractic manipulation, NSAIDS, accupuncture, youga, surgery X 2, TENS units, chondriotin/glucosamine, various traction gadgets, epidural steroids, etc. and every other ETC. you care to name.
Have said it before on this website that the only thing that keeps me walking is doing at least 10-15 miles per day on my bent. The only time I can guarantee that I am pain free is after 3 or 4 miles on the bent. After 15 miles it stays away for a few days. After a century I'm good for a couple of weeks. But I owe a lot to that screwey looking blue bike, even though some might think I look like a nerd on it! Wish I'd discovered it years ago.
It's 8 below zero here, so now have switched to a recumbent trainer in front of the DVD player, and an hour per day seems to keep the wheelchair away! LOL
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Old 12-02-07, 08:54 PM   #19
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My dh has a bulging disk, and I encourage you to not to wait until you have nerve damage to do something about it. His back pain started a few years ago, and last year his toes were going numb so he got a series of steriod shots to reduce the swelling and pressure on the nerve. They helped with the pain but not the nerve damage. The dr now says the nerve is dead and his foot is completely numb. He is going to have surgery in a couple of weeks to shave off the part bulging past the spine and putting pressure on the nerve. I just pray the dr. is wrong and the nerve will regenerate.
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Old 12-17-07, 01:56 PM   #20
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Just an update on dh if you are interested. He had the surgery Wednesday. There was scarring from the steriod shots and the nerve had attached to a ligament, but they were able to clean out all the scarring and excess disk and separate the nerve. Except for the incision itself, he has no back pain and the feeling is returning to his foot - something the other doctor said would never happen. Dh is back in action today & we are going on a trip tomorrow.
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Old 12-18-07, 07:47 AM   #21
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If it is a disc in your neck then be sure that you aren't using a mountain helmet with a visor attached. If you are and you ride in the drops then you have to rotate your head farther upward to see ahead than you would if you take the visor off of the helmet. Been there and done that. When I bought my first helmet I thought the visor was cool. It didn't last long after my neck began to bother me. Now I use road helmets.
This doesn't cure the problem it is just one less aggravating factor.
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