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#158900 - 12/18/11 02:20 PM Backpacking with a ruptured disc
blairbilly Offline

Registered: 06/17/10
Posts: 5
I herniated or ruptured a lower lumbar disc this last summer. (L4-L5). The ruptured "jelly" is now putting pressure on my spinal cord. I am not in excrutiating pain (some sciatica and more soarness), but don't have a lot of feeling on my right side from the back of my calf through the right side of the foot. The spinal doctor that I seen has advised to hold off on surgery as long as possible, so at this point, I am just dealing with the situation. I am looking for advice from anyone that is or has dealt with a similar situation. Anything from gear to pain relief. I usually take 1-2 long weekend backpacking trips a summer in the Rockies. I also do a lot of day hiking..if possible. I am able to cart around my 4 year and 1 year old girls in a kid pack without much trouble. Thanks for the advice in advance!


Edited by blairbilly (12/18/11 02:29 PM)

#158905 - 12/18/11 05:51 PM Re: Backpacking with a ruptured disc [Re: blairbilly]
OregonMouse Online   content

Registered: 02/03/06
Posts: 6562
Loc: Gateway to Columbia Gorge
(1) Talk to your physician about physical activity! I'm sure you shouldn't be carrying a heavy pack. I definitely wouldn't try carrying the little ones! The four year old should be able to carry herself and a light pack (wraps, snacks and a small water bottle).

(2) In your place, I'd definitely get a second opinion (always a good idea when surgery is either advised or postponed). Very often your insurance will pay for it.

Edited by OregonMouse (12/18/11 05:52 PM)
May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view--E. Abbey

#158928 - 12/19/11 09:33 AM Re: Backpacking with a ruptured disc [Re: OregonMouse]
balzaccom Online   content

Registered: 04/06/09
Posts: 1800
Loc: Napa, CA
As one who has struggled with a herniated disc...lots of physical therapy and exercises. No joke. DO them well, do them long, do them religiously!

check out our website and blog:

#160194 - 01/12/12 11:15 AM Re: Backpacking with a ruptured disc [Re: blairbilly]
dkramalc Offline

Registered: 09/19/03
Posts: 1070
Loc: California
This is secondhand advice, but both my dad and significant other had herniated discs and recovered fully without surgery. Dad's orthopedist actually advised him not to have surgery (of course, this was in the '60s, when there weren't as many options for surgery that weren't drastic), just to gradually do core strengthening exercises like crunches, and the "jelly" was eventually absorbed by his body. The S.O. did pretty much the same; oddly, he found that walking relieved his pain more than anything else. Once he recovered (6 months or so?) he was back to backpacking.

#160635 - 01/19/12 03:56 PM Re: Backpacking with a ruptured disc [Re: blairbilly]
CamperMom Offline

Registered: 01/04/02
Posts: 1201
Loc: Eastern MA, USA

You have my sympathy. For me, the disc between L4-5 ruptured badly enough that a piece broke off and moved away from the spine a bit. Docs have done CT scans, etc., to ensure the calcifed fragment is indeed an old disc piece, not cancer...

I'm thinking that if you have made it this far without surgery and have function, you may as well skip it. One of the better surgeons with whom I consulted would have done a "bandaid" procedure and removed the fragment to relieve nerve pressure and pain. By the 6 or 8 months after the blow out, the nerve damage was pretty much done and much of the pain had subsided. He said that after 5 years, studies showed that patients who didn't have surgery were doing about as well as those who did. Also, if they "fuse" two vertebrae, forces on the rest of the spine increases, causing a greater risk of a rupture elsewhere.

Anyway, I switched to the lightest gear I could afford and had to stop camping for a few years. Discovering hammocks made a juge difference. 20+ years later, my left leg is still weaker than the right and I have some numbness down into my toes. The good news is I've hiked over 900 miles of AT in the last 10 years, so you do not have to be "done."

See what you can do to lighten your load, work on body mechanics and strengthening, and try to avoid carrying the kids around. Also, figure out what works for YOU for sleeping on the trail. I can highly recommend a Hennessy Hammock.


#161825 - 02/07/12 04:06 PM Re: Backpacking with a ruptured disc [Re: blairbilly]
Lynn Offline

Registered: 08/16/10
Posts: 2
You have my sympathy since my L4/L5 disc also herniated 6 months ago. The spine doctor said there are basically three treatment choices: pain control plus physical therapy, pain control, physical therapy plus a spinal injection, and surgery. The common wisdom now is that all three choices have the same probability of success after two years. I chose pain control, physical therapy but no injection. I might be wrong here but I understand the spinal injection is primarily for pain control so I decided to not get an injection because I didn't want to mask the pain and reinjure myself. There is also a small risk of nerve damage from the injection itself. No matter what choice you make, you need the stretching and strenthening exercises prescribed by a physical therapist.


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