Morning Chalk Up

Tale of a CrossFitter With a Genetically Bad Back

April 30, 2017 BY Ericka Andersen
Tale of a CrossFitter With a Genetically Bad Back

I was born into a family of bad backs. My Dad has had a couple of surgeries, my aunts and other family members, too many to count. And it seems I inherited this genetic curse.

Even before I began CrossFit, I dealt with some back issues. As a marathon runner, injury got to me. I went to my first physical therapist at age 20 – and the problem soon solved itself in a matter of months. Six years later, I found myself off of running and visiting the chiropractor three times a week for months. That too, eventually got better.

In 2012, I discovered CrossFit. My back hurt a bit the week I was supposed to start so I postponed it by two weeks. I was skeptical about the sport – would this really be for me? And would it be worth the financial cost? (I lived in Washington, DC at the time so go ahead and double what you’re thinking.

My orthopedic surgeon slapped my MRI on the screen and told me my herniated disc was genetic. There was no way I could have prevented this, he said. It was coming, sooner or later.

The first class was, of course, simple. I was already in shape so the on-ramp squats, push-ups and sit-ups weren’t too difficult but a few classes later, I was hooked. I loved the variety, the difficulty and the ability to modify everything to your own personal goals. The cost of class was totally worth it because I looked forward to it everyday, enjoyed the high I got from completing WODs and seeing the same people everyday, just as excited as I was to be there pushing ourselves.

A year into CrossFit, the old back did a number on me. I couldn’t even air squat, let alone lift a barbell. There was no particular move that did it—and my orthopedic surgeon slapped my MRI on the screen and told me my herniated disc was genetic. There was no way I could have prevented this, he said. It was coming, sooner or later.

Before I knew it, I was scheduled for back surgery. It was simple and recovery was fairly quick. My doctor even encouraged me to get back to CrossFit to help strengthen my body. Less than two months later I was back in the gym and feeling good. Back pain was eliminated and I was taking it easy, just so THANKFUL I could be there. I got in a year of CrossFitting again before my back betrayed me again. It was during the Open in 2015 when I knew something was wrong.

Two weeks later, I found out I was pregnant and pregnancy sciatica took over. No more CrossFit for this girl. It would be a full year before I would step into a box again. Five months post-baby and having been back into a fitness routine for three months, I joined a CrossFit gym in my new home town. I was nervous. Would my back betray me again?

For over a year, I went to class 3-4 times a week. My back was perfect! I improved EVERYTHING. I finally got pull-ups, I scored a million PR’s, I overcame my fear of heavy (for me) back squats, I improved my form and strengthened my core. I was genuinely grateful each and everyday I got to come in and do this sport I love so much. In the back of my mind, I thought, please please don’t let it happen again.

Three weeks ago, my good luck ended. Something happened, though I couldn’t tell you what. I’m waiting for an MRI. I can tell it was kind of bugging me but one day, I stood up with my son and something moved. Something moved onto a nerve that has been plaguing my leg for 8 days now. I can tell you that it’s possible I’ll have to have back surgery again. I can tell you I have the injury blues.

For over a year, I went to class 3-4 times a week. My back was perfect! I improved EVERYTHING. I finally got pull-ups, I scored a million PR’s, I overcame my fear of heavy (for me) back squats…I was genuinely grateful each and everyday I got to come in and do this sport I love so much. In the back of my mind, I thought, please please don’t let it happen again.

I’m about to put my gym membership on hold for a month. I’m thankful that Three Kings has incorporated a new class that is mostly body weight and focused on circuits. No barbells or heavy powerlifting – so I hopefully won’t have to leave my community, even if I have to stop the part of CrossFit that I love so much.

Injury sucks. It’s hard for us go-getters who never want to stop and crave that daily energy we get from the WODs, especially our favorites. On “Girls Gone WOD” podcast, I’ve heard the ladies discuss how so many times us CrossFitters see the WOD and don’t want to miss even one. I totally get that feeling.

But I also know that I sometimes don’t rest enough. I certainly don’t stretch enough. I push myself sometimes when I’m too sore. I don’t treat my body with the respect it needs and deserves. And though I do have a genetically bad back, I exacerbate it by being lazy by ignoring the essentials like ROMWOD and rest days and even sometimes proper nutrition.

There are many factors that contribute to injury, but strength training is the best thing we can do for our bodies to keep them healthy and running smoothly for a lifetime. Perhaps power lifting will be off the table for me – but the constantly varied, high intensity functional movements that are the core of CrossFit – will not be.

Here’s to carrying on.