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Return to Running After A Back Injury

Dr. Nichole Nygren

Feb 20, 2023

If you thought I was Goofy, you're right!

Back in 2013 I did a thing...I ran "The Goofy Challenge". After you read what that is, you’re going to think I’m really goofy, especially if you don't like to run!

It's hard to imagine, but the Goofy Challenge is 4 races back to back.

Day 1: a 5K (3.1 miles)

Day 2: a 10K (6.2 miles)

Day 3: a half marathon (13.1 miles) and finally

Day 4: a FULL MARATHON (26.2 miles)

All in all I ran 39.3 magical miles through the parks of Walt Disney World.

And that began my streak. Although I knew this was not something I could do every year, and I wasn’t entirely sure I’d want to do the whole challenge again anyway, I did commit to every 5 years returning and doing a big race.

There was something about the mile 26 gospel church choir singing you on that made me want to return. Or maybe it was the characters at every mile? Or the magical Cinderella castle we ran through? Whatever it was, when 2018 came, I decided to commit to the Mickey Marathon.

My training began and, since I wasn’t running all the other races prior, this was a good chance for me to try to run a decent marathon. Because please note, I’m an okay runner, but by no means a great fast runner!

I had the inspiration of my 20 something year old nephew though to run as fast and hard as I possibly could, and not be too blown away by him…and I actually did pretty well! Just 5 minutes behind!

Fast forward another 5 years to today, 2023, and it was decision time again. This time I chose the Princess Challenge, which is a 10k (6.2 miles) day 1 and a half marathon (13.1 miles) day 2. At the time of registering I was feeling great and my running was getting stronger again after some time off. So it was set.

Then I, a chiropractor, hurt my own back lifting something incorrectly. And I hurt it badly. Very few people know this, but I severely herniated my low back disc. This means my cushiony disc ruptured and it’s contents leaked out and compressed & burned my sciatic nerve root. This causes excruciating pain…and many, many sleepless nights. To sum it up, I was barely able to walk without severe pain, let alone run. I couldn’t even lift my toes on my right foot and my ankle kept rolling because my leg muscles weren’t working. When Your MRI says this; "Disc Herniation (Extrusion Type) L4-5 level: Right-sided extrusion measuring 5 mm x 12 mm with caudal subligamentous migration of disc material by 5 mm. Herniation compressing the thecal sac with posterior displacement of the right L5 nerveroot" it's not good. I thought I would have to cancel my race.

However, if you know anything about me, it’s that I’m very determined, and once I commit to something I don’t quit. So I didn’t. Unbeknownst to many, over the past 5 months I have been slowly rehabbing myself. I've been doing all the things I do to get my patients better, to get myself better. I got my toes and ankle working again, my feeling has come back, the tingling has gone away, the nerve pain has gone away, I can sit in my car without pain, I can sleep through the night, I can work on patients without pain… and I can finally run again.

That’s why this race is a big deal—at least to me! It will definitely be a walk/run race to finish. But it will justify all my hard work healing myself and prove I can overcome one of the hardest, most painful things in my life. And I’ll get a medal for it! 🎉

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