When Bad Discs Happen To Strong People

On occasion, I refer to a formative patient I had in my chiropractic practice many years ago. I call him Carl. Carl was a big strong guy that had lifted heavy and played hard for most of his life. While his prior activity was apparent in his physical frame as he sat in front of me, it was juxtaposed by his emotional state. Carl was crying…and not just a trace tear on the cheek, either. This grown man was sobbing and fortunately for me, it was tears of joy. He had suffered a disc injury while lifting, and subsequently re—injured it several times. He’d seen a handful of chiropractors who painfully bounced on him to try to get some magic crack, but made him feel worse about as often as it made him feel better. He’d had more needles stuck into him than his mother’s pin cushion. He’d seen many physicians and surgeons who had all given some sort of advice that resembled “Stop lifting” or “These opioids should take the edge off” or “We can cut you open and snip that out”. He’d heard about poor surgical outcomes and was leery of going that route. His fear of surgery was rivaled by his fear of lifting which had now bled from his sport life into other, more personal facets, including lifting his child, lifting the garbage and lifting his socks from the floor. Carl felt like he was waiting on the edge of something worse, and he was incredibly frustrated that his source of solace-­‐lifting-­‐could have seemingly turned on him like a traitorous friend. But he wept at that moment because of what we had just done in the clinic.

We had lifted a bit of weight, only 35lbs or so, but the importance of it rivaled his 3x BW deadlift he had been proud of before his injury. He had lifted the weight a bit differently than he had lifted before, and he lifted it over and over, and the pain in his back was totally absent. It looked as though a huge weight had been finally lifted from his mind and then that happiness gave way to the tears of joy. He looked at me and said the words that aimed me in the direction that places the readers of this article and I in proximity to each other. He said “Where in the hell was I supposed to have learned this?”


At this time, I can finally answer that question. Many years later, I started to synthesize the elements of the research on exercise science, back pain and pain psychology as well as several methods of rehab and manual therapy. Ironically, given my training as a chiro, I found the material that was most critical in caring for patients with disc injury didn’t involve my hands. It had more to do with what I could teach them to do and not do. It involved education on movement, biomechanics, pain physiology and neuroscience. I put that material together in an online format called The fascinating thing that has become apparent over time, is that this information appears to be scalable. That is, not only will application of the principles help reduce pain and dysfunction, but it also seems to help with performance. While we don’t have the evidence yet to back that claim, the anecdotal evidence is compelling.

Around 2011, I had the pleasure of getting to know Chris Duffin at Elite Performance Center, now Kabuki Strength Lab. We worked together a bit and I now count Chris as a friend. As we have gotten to know each other, his experience helped tweak the work I was doing as my experience tweaked his. Both of our worlds, strength and rehab, saw benefit from the collaboration. As I grew to know more of the lifters in his world and was able to help with their back issues, that knowledge base grew.
Chris has done a remarkable job distilling that informational template and laying it down on the powerlifter’s needs. He was kind enough to share those basics on the FixYourOwnBack site. If you are an athlete who lifts, and you are struggling with disc injury, come spend some time with us at and work through The Plan to get your groove back. As you move into the strength building portion of our site check out Chris’ work at Kabuki Movement System and take your lifting to championship levels. I could not recommend his work more highly and the results embodied in the world records that have been set working this model speak for themselves. First find your sustainable movement pattern, and then load it. In the process you can learn to truly fix your own back!