All about Herniated Disks and Henrik Zetterberg

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Henrik Zetterberg will miss the rest of the Olympics with a herniated disk in his back.

This is an injury that he has been dealing with this whole season.

My initial thought is how in the world did he play at all with a herniated disk?

I know that all injuries are not the same and they can vary in seriousness.

All I am saying is that he is in a lot of pain from an injury that most people struggle to function with.

Obviously, I do not know the extent of what is going on and I cannot really speak to his specific condition but this is not an injury that is going to heal itself while playing.

What is a herniated disk?

Think of a spinal disk as a jelly donut.

The inner filling is the nucleus and the dough is the annulus rings.

When you squeeze one side of the jelly donut with a lot of pressure the jelly is probably going to break through the opposite side and shoot out.

This is pretty much what happens with a herniated disk.

herniated disk

What causes a herniation?

There are a couple of ways that the disks can get injured. One is through a traumatic experience such as a fall or accident.

The most common cause with the general population is repeated bouts of spinal flexion (sometimes with rotation) and loading.

Spinal flexion occurs any time the vertebrae rounds forward. Most herniations occur in the low back because there is much less free motion in those spinal segments.

Sitting, picking things up with a rounded back, and poor posture are all ways to load a flexed spine. Repeating these activities over time can cause a herniated disk.

The not so funny part is that when a disk goes, it is not during a 500 pound deadlift; it will come from a sneeze or other freak incident.

It is not so freak when looking at the history of abuse on the spine.

How does a herniation heal?

Some injuries are worse than others and require different interventions.

Sometimes surgery is needed but a lot of times it can be avoided.

People find relief from herniated disks by careful exercise and postures. 

Changing one’s normal habits is important for recovery. This means less sitting, more attention to picking things up in life, and seeing health professionals.

This is a problem for the Swedish captain. Zetterberg plays a sport that is primarily played hunched over. On top of that there is a lot of contact and collisions.

Oh, and to score goals you must rotate the body rapidly. These are all risk factors for the injury.

The road to recovery may be a challenge. Lucky for him he has access to the best treatment in the world and will be back fairly soon.

He may be out for a while if the injury is bad enough.

Strategy for regular people

Chances are that if you are reading this then you are not an elite athlete. If you are, can I have an autograph?

They will recover much better than normal people but the process is still the same:

1.      Remove what caused the injury

2.      Restore alignment

3.      Restore proper movement, mobility, and stability

4.      Maintain the changes

If you always are sitting at a computer then you need a process for getting out of that position. This can be with a stand up desk or periodic walks.

A chiropractor is often necessary to realign the spine/pelvis. Very often just getting into good alignment does wonders.

Good movement patterns are a proactive approach to fixing injuries. It will help make the alignment stick, develop strength in the right areas, and prevent further injury.

Maintaining the changes is usually the step that people forget. Once they feel better, they go right back to all of the habits that caused the injury. In a short amount of time, they are back to where they started.

Finding someone who knows how to work with your injury, monthly chiropractic/physical therapist visits, and or regular manual therapy are a strategy for a healthy back.

I used to work with a client who was cleared for exercise but could barely walk without compensations. With him the goal of the program was to improve movement patterns and core stability.

Outside of the gym it meant he had to run less. This took a long time to accept but it is for the best. He also gets manual therapy and chiropractic work done.

He had to make the changes in his lifestyle to avoid surgery and it has paid off dramatically. He has not had a cortisone shot in over a year and can go for runs from time to time.

He continues to work with all three people to keep the injury in check.

Henrik Zetterberg will have to go through a similar process but it might be a bit easier for him. He is a warrior for playing through that as much as he did.

This back injury can be quite frustrating. There is a simple (not necessarily easy) solution to fixing the problem.