Professional Athlete... Back pain ruining my life

Hi guys,

This is my first post after lurking the forums for a few days. It's a bit therapeutic in a way reading other people's experiences with back issues and knowing that I'm not alone. I really appreciate how everyone in this community is helping and wishing relief for one another.
I apologize in advance to the super long message I'm going to type out, but please please please, i just feel like the more eyeballs it's exposed to, the more chance for answers to make my life better :)
So a little background about me:I'm 30 years old and a professional MMA fighter with a record of 8-1, and over 10 years of boxing, kickboxing, wrestling experience. I'm the #1 ranked fighter in Virginia in my weight division. I also work as a Martial Arts instructor to children/adults. As you can tell by now, it's a large part of who I am.
Now some background to my injury.
On December 8th 2016 was the first initial injury I suffered. I had started a heavy weight lifting program a few weeks prior and was consistent. The day before the injury, I was squatting pretty heavy. No big deal, although I woke up to some usual soreness. Instead of resting it, the next morning I decided to wrestle. Now even more sore as the day goes. Later that night, I decide to wrestle again. I start without a proper warm up, I go to take my partner down to the ground, and as I did I felt a sharp "tearing" sensation in my lower left side of my back. I left the gym immediately after. 
The healing process was good, things were going smooth about 6 weeks out from the injury. Now with this injury, there is pain in my lower left side when I do any kind of lifting motion. I am able to do boxing and kickboxing, but no wrestling. Wrestling is what exacerbates it. So about 7 weeks from initially hurting it, I decide to get back to wrestling. I guess I came back too early and I have a bad flare up of inflammation. I decide to take another 2 or 3 months away from wrestling.
Now, fast forward to June. I have a fight that I trained for intensely for about 7 weeks (with very minimal pain). The fight happens, I win, and my back is in good shape.
After this fight, I decided to get back to powerlifting. One day I decide to deadlift and I had bad form during the lift. I immediately felt a sharp shooting pain throughout my whole lower back.  I drop the weights and go home. I give it a few weeks to rest and come back to training, but the pain is still there (prominently in my lower left side)
I am lucky to be sponsored by a chiropractor who works on me for free. He did an X-ray and saw no skeletal/structural damage. He insists that it is just "soft tissue" damage. I spoke to a neurosurgeon who is a friend of my boss' and he also said it seems as if it's just soft tissue.I also spoke to a certified physical therapist who says it seems like the issue is in my QL (Quadratus Lumborum). 
The chiropractor treatments don't help so much. It gives me temporary, superficial relief. My physical therapist gives me deep tissue massages which really seem to get to the core of the issue more and help a lot more.
I took about 2 months from any kind of physically enduring activities. During this time, there wasn't much progress in my back.
I tried so many different things on my own as well. Core strengthening, theracane, lacrosse ball trigger point massaging, Roman chair exercised.  As soon as I try to wrestle or lift heavy, I have a bad inflammatory flare up.
It's very strange because some days are better than others. Some days I can get away with wrestling and have no pain. But sometimes, like this past Sunday, as soon as I tried to wrestle the pain came.
This issue has been plaguing my life and fighting career for the past 1 year and 3 months. It's making me really question whether or not I can continue competing in this sport that I love and dedicate everything to.
As per my chiropractor, I have not gotten an MRI yet because he keeps stressing that it's not really required. I also don't have health insurance (pretty risky since I fight for a living lol). I've been shopping for a place for cheap MRIs without insurance.
I just don't know what to do anymore. Even if I get an MRI and they diagnose the problem. I feel as though I've tried everything needed to fix any back issue.

If you've gotten this far. Thank you so much for giving me your time :) and I hope all you guys find relief!



    google the phrase “cash mri (insert your city and state)” and see what it returns. 

    I’m pretty sure you still need a Doctor Rx for an MRI even if you pay cash.

    All this inflammation still happening 15 months later is concerning. 

    The chiropractor probably tells you an MRI is not needed because if you have a blown disc then he won’t be able to work on you any longer because you’ll be going to a neurosurgeon instead. He’s a smart cookie.

    You can’t say that you’ve tried everything to fix your back issue when you haven’t even had an MRI. That’s naive and I think even you know better. I’m not sure why you spout such nonsense.  :p

    Good luck. Keep us posted.

  • I'm 16 and train MMA as well, with bad lower right back pain which keeps coming and going. It sucks so bad. I already had pain but went to BJJ practice anyway and basically destroyed my back. I hope all goes well with you and please leave feedback 

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  • Combat kid congrats on your achievements in the sport but you really need to step back and listen to what these guys are saying you need a MRI and give your workouts a breakout.

  • I agree! MRI! I had a herniated disc in L5S1 and it was debilitating! Chiropractor didn't do any good, massage gave temporary relief, but nobody could tell me what was wrong, got an MRI and saw the problem, only then could I get the proper treatment! You really don't want a chiropractor popping your bones if you'e got torn tissue. I had PRP injection in September, was planning to get surgery, but then I started reading all the horror stories of people on this forum who have surgery and they think life is Good again... for the next 3 or 4 months! And then it's back (or worse) to square 1. Now back pain seems to be in my past! And I hope it stays that way. 

  • Congratulations on the achievements. I am a 21 year old who was also athletic until my injury so in this case I may have a neck problem but I understand where you are coming from with your back. From my own experience in the gym what made sense for me was to work on my weakest points but in the case of injury (especially those pertaining to the spine) an MRI is most certainly the way to go to assess something that clearly is bothering you for such a period of time. For my injury which I sustained to my neck in the gym I kept going but what eventually happened was I realized I needed to take some time off from my regular routine and assess my problem.  I plan on returning to the gym and taking it super slow as to not destroy any progress I made (although I still have some concerns they are not nearly as bad as a year ago). The good thing about athletes is that we have charisma and endurance so if you get an MRI, use what discipline you have against your problem as it takes a saints patience to deal with it at times. Look at it like this, the sooner you get an MRI, the sooner you know what's wrong, and the sooner you can do something about it so you can live your life. Keep us posted as well because I am interested in if you get the MRI and what it shows. 

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  • Thank you guys so much for the replies and advice.

    I've made an appointment with my chiropractor on Monday and I will request an RX for an MRI.

    I've also got a sponsor who will cover the cost of the MRI. I was told there are two options, a regular MRI for $500 and an MRI with contrast (?) for $700

    I know that I sound stupid saying that I've "tried everything" already even without an MRI or proper diagnosis. I guess I was just feeling hopeless.

    I'm really hoping that this MRI can give me definitive answers to the core of my problems and what I can do to combat it.

    I've been doing research into Cortisone shots. If the issue is truly only soft tissue, I am considering this route. Have any of you guys had success with cortisone shots?

    Thank u so much everybody. Hoping relief and happiness for all of you!

  • MarWinMarWin OhioPosts: 659

    I think you chiropractor needs to go back and look at your xrays. Hopefully he/she did a full body xray to see if you have any alignment dysfunctions. I agree that further scans aren't all that necessary. If you have sciatica, you know it. It's a safe bet you have muscle imbalances going on that will cause your bones to shift into misalignment. If your pelvis is out, then so too could be your vertebrae. Disc compression can ensue, and then bulges which can impinge your nerve. Another possibility is that your piriformis is inflamed. 

    All too often they want you to do further strengthening, but what good does it do when your muscles are already strong enough? NOTE: Just because you have pain, does not mean you have weak muscles. Your muscles have really just lost their ability to function properly. Again....muscle imbalances. If the imbalances are your root cause, then doing strengthening exercises will only further strengthen the imbalances, hence causing more pain. 

    In my experience, the same happened with chiropractic. It only made my impingements worse. Hence causing more pain. I only read the crib notes version because I need to take off right now, but I'll try to circle back this weekend and see how things are going..

  • As they say, muscle has memory. 

    Too often people get hurt and are afraid of losing many months (or even a year or two) from doing what they want to at the gym.

    The tendency is for “gym rats” to “overdo it” for fear of losing even more muscle mass. 

    I personally know a woman who is more active now (and driven and motivated to be more active) ever since her L4-L5 fusion. 

    Obviously she didn’t go gung-ho until x months post-surgery but the attitude of pushing yourself when you know something is not right inside your body is unfortunate and can be downright toxic.

    So much of it is psychological too. The fear of never getting back to where you were prior to injury. 

    It may be that you never get back to 100% but I’ve also seen people instead attain 150% or 200% (this is possible because certain people were not operating anywhere near their full potential prior to injury, due to boredom, laziness, lack of drive, etc.).

    Being injured makes us realize how valuable it is to not be in pain. Only after we’re hurt in a big way can we appreciate this. 

    At the end of the day if injury and recovery from it allows us to have a fresh perspective and appreciation for the human body that can indeed go a long way.

  • Thank you again for all the replies.

    I seriously feel like a dummy waiting so long to 

    1. Post in a forum and get feedback from others with backpain 

    2. Get an MRI

    My Chiropractor and some others have just kept ensuring me that it wasn't serious and will get better on its own. obviously the amount of time my back has been out of whack is a huge cause for concern.

    I'm almost anxious to finally have the MRI done and find out what the underlying issue is. I should be getting the scan done next week sometime hopefully.

  • Thanka DavidG. The analogy you used about me stepping into your "ring" really made it click and put things into perspective. I always heard about people's personal cases of chronic back pain and used to think, "oh that'd never happen to me." Jinx.

    I've been doing a lot of research into PRP injections and it's looking like a practical approach depending on my results.

    But I'll play it one step at a time and try to stay as optimistic as possible!

  • L4_L5LL4_L5 Posts: 1,275
    edited 02/10/2018 - 10:44 PM

    If you think an MRI is pricey look up PRP injections. Severe sticker shock!!  :o

  • Congrats on such success first off. i am new to this as well but it does help reading and chatting with others. 

    I have had 5 back/neck surgeries in the last 18 months and unfortunately there is nothing else they can do for me i have DDD (degenerative disc disease, arthritis and spinal stenosis . I was very very active myself and had pain here and there like your saying for years. once i thought i pulled a muscle about 23 years old and from that point on it was every several months until i was about 28 (now 30) when it just didn't go away come to find out i waited so long with herniated discs in neck and my back that i caused permanent nerve damage in my right leg from my nerve being compressed for so long so i agree with everyone that you should def get an MRI also the contrast will also help show your nerves so there is no missing ANYTHING i have had a lot of complications through this and actually just had my 8th MRI both with and without contrast today so i am what you can say a little familiar with all of this. I know i see on TV all the time you can go to laser spine centers and receive a free MRI ??? maybe something look into but def money worth spent just to be safe i hope all is well and you continue to pursue your dreams in MMA. let us know how things go? i am awaiting results myself from today and im thinking its mainly scar tissue but i understand the stress of not knowing.. i truly believe thru everything i have been thru with my back and neck (fusions, microdisectomy , and artificial discs even placed) that doing physical therapy and stretching is a MUST to keep the pain under control obviously what your body allows. some days i cant bend my leg and i push to do my therapy. sorry so long but i wanted to stress the fact not to wait i wish i wouldn't have i could have less issues now and i am only 30. (not saying its serious, but again better safe than sorry) 

  • Combat when you get your MRI results post us a message I am curious as to what they found.

  • Hey guys, I have my MRI appointment tonight. Will keep you guys posted on the results.

    Thank you all again for investing your time and concern in me 

  • Hey guys, I have my MRI appointment tonight. Will keep you guys posted on the results.

    Thank you all again for investing your time and concern in me.

  • CombatKidCCombatKid Posts: 1
    edited 02/26/2018 - 12:14 PM

    Hi guys, 

    I've finally got the results and report of the MRI.  I spoke to my chiropractor about the results and although there seems to be some mild bulging in certain areas, he believes they are not a big cause for concern, because they don't seem to be protruding to the spinal canal/nerves.  The bulging seems to be mostly on the left side which is where my pain originates. I'm going to post the full report below:

    The disc at the L1- L2 is normal.

    At the L2-3 the height and the signal intensity of this disc are slightly
    decreased. Mild nonfocal disc bulge is noted at L2-L3. The bulging disc
    does not appear to compromise appreciably the spinal canal. The bulging of
    however is asynmetric favoring the left side and compromises the left neural
    foramen. This is best shown on series 7 image 6 and on series 3 image 09—

    At L3-4 the disc is normal.

    At L4—5 the signal intensity of this disc is decreasedv The disc height is
    fairly well preserved. Diffuse disc bulge is noted at the L4—5. The
    bulging disc does not appear to compromise significantly the spinal canal.
    The bulging however is asymmetric favoring the left side and compromises the
    left neural foramen. A focal hyperintensity is identified in the bulging
    part of the disc at this level. This is due to an annular tear which is
    best shown on series 3 image 10 and on series 7 image 14.

    At the LS—Sl the signal intensity of this disc is decreased. The disc
    height is well preserved. A small and broad—based disc protrusion is noted
    at this level. The protruding disc is centrally located compromising the
    ventral epidural space and abutting but not compressing the thecal sac‘
    This is best shown on series 5 image 6, on series 3 image 6 and on series 7
    image 19 — to and.

    The 3 lower thoracic discs Show no abnormalitiesi The distal end of the
    cord is visualized and appears normal.


    1. Disc degeneration of mild degree is noted at the L2—L3, 1.4-1.5 and L5-Sl.
    This is manifested by decrease in the signal intensity of these discs and
    diffuse disc bulge. The degeneration is more prominent at the L2-L3 where
    in addition there is some loss of disc height.

    2. The bulging of the discs at the L2-L3 and at L4-L5 is asymmetric
    favoring the left side. The above abnormalities compromise the left neural
    foramina at these 2 levels. An associated Small and subannular diSc
    herniation at the L4-L5 cannot be entirely ruled out. The focal
    hyperintensity described in the bulging part of the disc at the Lé-LS is due
    to an annular tear.

    3. A small and broad-based disc protrusion is identified at the LS-Sl.

    This is centrally located compromising the ventral epidural space. The
    above abnormality also favors the right side. It compromises somewhat more
    prominently the right lateral recess of the spinal canal. The focal
    hyperintensity described in the protruding part of the disc at this level is
    due to an annular tear.

    Just wondering what you guys make of this? He's referred me to a neurologist and recommended that I start using an inversion table... I'm freaking out about these results.  

  • MarWinMarWin OhioPosts: 659

    Having had sciatica for over two years and tried the inversion I would be suspect of its usefulness. You have to think first of your muscles and the impact on them. Muscles are used to gravity in a downward direction. To change that gravity by inverting yourself may cause them to become very stressed and lead to more pain. This was the case with me. Any degree of inversion beyond horizontal [to the floor] and my pain multiplied. 

    The purpose of inversion is to allow your vertebrae to decompress, but if your muscles are stressed and engaged because something has changed their gravitational pull the inversion would do little for decompression. So, not only did inversion make my sciatica worse, it also exacerbated my low back pain. 

    Sorry....I cannot you have sciatica or low back pain or both?  

  • You mentioned a sharp, tearing sensation in your original post. 

    I had a similar sensation when I got injured.

    My doctor said that sharp, sudden pain I felt was the annular tear happening.

    Don’t freak out.

    Go to your neurologist appmt and good luck. 

    It may not be as bad as you think.

    Your chiropractor is not in a position to say this or that is no big deal because chiropractors aren’t spine specialists.

    My doctor would say an annular tear can absolutely cause a lot of pain.

  • Yeah I would probably hold off on the inversion till you have a talk with the neurologist and I know your mind is probably laying a guilt trip on you about your workouts but you need to take it easy. 

  • Hey guys, 

    Just wanted to give you guys an update, and hoping my methods can help you guys also.  So, long story short; I had an appointment scheduled with a Neurologist, but since seeing DRASTIC improvements, I decided to cancel and save the time/money.

    So last weekend, I decided to give my inversion table another try.  The first few times that I used it, I felt as though it was causing a lot more problems than resolving.  I stayed inverted for about 15 minutes, got off, and felt an immediate reduction in pain and increase in mobility.

    On Sunday, my father and I built a home-made, DIY Reverse Hyper machine.  Now you guys may not believe it, but I got on the Machine (with maybe about 40 pounds) and began doing a few sets. During one set I felt a few cracks from my back at he bottom of the swing.  I got off and to my amazement, the pain I had for 1.5 years while bending to my right, wasn't there.  

    I'm not crying, "Miracle" just yet, but I'm extremely confident that in a few months, or hopefully less, I will be good enough to continue pursuing my career endeavors.

    I've made the inversion table and reverse hyper a daily routine.  The pain/stiffness in the mornings has been greatly reduced as well.  I'm seeing the light at the end of the tunnel

  • MRI. Get one asap. Also, dont aggravate your back. 

  • L4_L5LL4_L5 Posts: 1,275
    edited 03/14/2018 - 4:07 AM

    Personally I would see a neurologist or neurosurgeon (for them to review your MRI) and see if they clear weight-lifting for you. 

    You may have temporary “fixed” something with the root problem just waiting to rear its ugly head, as soon as you do something too aggressive.

    Having an MRI with your findings and not having it reviewed by a spine specialist is not smart IMO.

    Just my two cents.

  • MarWinMarWin OhioPosts: 659
    edited 03/14/2018 - 12:52 PM

    Nice @CombatKid

  • martymarmmartymar Posts: 70
    edited 03/15/2018 - 11:05 AM

    I looked up your reverse hyper machine I remember them from my gym days definitely gives you a lumber stretch. I don't know if it will last since you pretty much just decompressed your back but your young and it's possible your disc will heal up over time. Just keep in mind when your hitting the weights the disc is damaged so it may never be as good as before. You may want to take l4 l5 suggestion and spend a couple hundred on a neurologists opinion it may be worth it in the long run. In the mean time good luck on your mma career if I ever see someone standing up there with Dana white 30 and from Virginia I will know who you are. I came back to edit this and say be kind to your back most here started with good backs as well, I'm 54 now and it really really sucks to be in pain everyday, good luck combat

  • CombatKidCCombatKid Posts: 1
    edited 03/23/2018 - 1:17 AM

    Hey guys,

    So an update.  L4_L5, you were right.  The exercises I was doing were kind of a temporary relief.  I feel that the Reverse Hypers are a good way to strengthen the back and is a good warm-up, cool-down exercise but still doesn't fix the root of the problem.  It's just so frustrating.  It's so difficult to find a pattern to the pain.  I feel so stupid for thinking I found the end-all cure to this shit.

    There are a few things that I've changed/done and found some patterns.  I've been sleeping on my stomach and that has helped me find a lot more relief in the mornings.  Also using a lumbar support during driving.

    I've also started the Mckenzie method.  According to the book after doing the exercises, the pain should be centralizing, or moving from it's original location to the middle.  I've been doing the exercises for 3 days and the pain has shifted from the left to the right (weird).  Not sure if that's what's supposed to be happening.

    Anyways,  This whole ordeal has been literally driving me crazy... definitely a dark time in my life.  

    Anybody else have any experience with the Mckenzie method?

  • Forgot to mention:

    Went to the Neurologist and he was honestly as clueless as I was, especially considering that I didn't have many sciatic symptoms.  He spent a lot of time with me and answered a lot of my questions.  He took a good look at the MRIs as well.  Didn't see any significant nerve impingement, did a lot of reflex tests.  Thinks that my left ankle is showing some "reflex changes".

    He wants to do an EMG and eventually a cortisone in the affected disc.  I am having mixed feelings about it.  I don't really want to "mask" the pain, as my profession will take a toll on the discs if I work through the injury.

    I've stopped training since the MRI and diagnosis, which was about 5 weeks ago.  And I can honestly say that I'm seeing some improvement.  Much more range of flexibility where the pain usually was.  But still stiffness and tightness in the mornings or randomly through the day.

    I'm determined to fix this god damn back and get back to my craft.  

  • I feel for you dude. 

    I’ve competed in combat sports since I was 15. This has been the worst injury I’ve had. And like you can’t get a definitive diagnosis. 

  • MarWinMarWin OhioPosts: 659

    Hey man, can you re-describe your symptoms? Which one's bother you the most? I believe in your first post you mentioned you wrestled, and then later in the day wrestled again but without proper warm-up. My question to you would be "what did you do [physical activity] between the first match and the second one later that day? 

    In another post you asked about the MacKenzie method. It is a popular method, but one that I feel can be detrimental because it focuses more on unilateral work as well as flexion/extension work. In my opinion, since the body is a unit, neither of these approaches work consistently well. The reason I dislike unilateral work is because we are bilateral in nature, so it only makes sense that what we do to one side, we should do to the other - this helps to promote keeping the muscles in balance. The reason I dislike flexion/extension moves when you have low back pain / sciatic pain is if the nerve is already impinged (and you do not know where at any given moment), then adding further impingement may exacerbate things. This is my reason for not liking the Mac method. 

    I do think its beneficial to stop training while you are trying to sort out the pain. As you train, you also strengthen. If you have muscle imbalances, the strengthening will only serve to further strengthen the imbalances. This can lead to more pain. Hope that makes sense so far?   

  • @MarWin

    Thanks a ton for the reply.

    My symptoms: 

    I have pain in my lower left side. It is always very stiff, unless i do hyperextension exercises, then it’s loosened up temporarily.  Anytime I do a squatting motion with weights there is pain in my lower left side, psoas and left hip.

    When I first injured it 9 months ago, there was some slight sciatica only for a few days. Since then, it has healed up a lot. Although there’s still a lot of stiffness and not a lot of mobility, especially in the mornings.  It’s good enough to where I can still do explosive twisting and rotations (sprinting, boxing, kickboxing) but is aggravated when I apply weight/force to it (wrestling, lifting). 

    MarWin, I think you’re right about the Mckenzie exercises. After a few days, it made my symptoms really flare up and I feel it.

    I can’t find a pattern to this healing process. Just when I think I found something and made progress, the pain comes back and I’m right back to square 1.

    I think I’ve come to terms with the fact that I will never compete again, let alone be pain-free. I’m strongly considering to retire from the sport I love because of this curse.

  • I think I’ve come to terms with the fact that I will never compete again, let alone be pain-free. I’m strongly considering to retire from the sport I love because of this curse.
    Keep going to your doctor appmts and pressing forward. You never know. You’re still young and may bounce back. Far better to be your age and have this injury than to be a 40 yr old IMO. 

    My doctor says certain annular tears can take 18 months to heal from (but that’s assuming you’re not constantly re-aggravating it, of course).

    Good luck. Please keep us posted.

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