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Bulging Disc Injury and Recovery: Logan’s Story

Meet Logan


The music was loud, and the testosterone levels were high in the Lansing High School weightlifting room, as the powerlifting team was getting ready for another season. Logan Buffo, a sophomore at the time, was posting similar weight numbers as the seniors and he was excited about a successful season.

“I got interested in weights during seventh grade,” Logan said. “After that, I just really wanted to do powerlifting and try to improve. I like it a lot. I was among the top five on our team last year as a sophomore.”

Not only was Logan looking for a big season with the Lions’ powerlifting team, but he was also accomplished on the football field and in track and field. A seemingly normal day in the weight room threatened to derail Logan’s plans when he felt tightness and a slight sharp pain in his lower back during a set of back squats.

“I continued to compete and lifted through (the pain) hoping it would get better once my body adjusted to lifting that amount of weight,” Logan said.

The pain continued


That time never came, the pain got worse, and Logan eventually started having discomfort all the way down to his knees.

“The pain in my knees started about six months after the initial injury,” Logan said. “I was driving to Tennessee and I had to pull over and let my mom drive because it hurt so much in my lower back and legs. That week, I was uncomfortable being on the hard ground working with cattle.”

When he got back to Kansas, Logan already had a physical scheduled with his primary care physician so he could play football this fall as a junior.

“(My doctor) took an X-ray of my knees, which showed they were being pulled to the outside,” Logan said. “He then referred me to go have a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test done.” 

The initial concern was that Logan had pars defect, or spondylolysis, which is a stress fracture of the bones of the lower spine, typically a result of overuse. However, an MRI of the lumbar spine revealed multiple bulging discs in the lumbar spine. He was then referred to Natalie Stork, MD, in the Children’s Mercy Sports Medicine Center, for further evaluation and management. 

“A bulging disc can occur when the disc, or ‘cushion,’ between the vertebrae or bones of the spine protrudes beyond it's normal position,” Dr. Stork said. “While this can be a cause of back pain in both athletes and non-athletes, it is not a common cause of back pain in young athletes. Mechanical low back pain and spondylolysis are generally more common causes of back pain in the young athletic population.”

Going to rehab


With Logan’s bulging discs, it was determined the best treatment would be rehabilitation with Shannon Margherio, PT, OCS, physical therapist at Children’s Mercy Sports Medicine Village West.

“When Logan first started (rehab with me), he was in a fair amount of pain,” Shannon said. “He is a really active kid with football, power lifting and track and field, and he was frustrated about what he couldn’t do (be out there).”

But for Logan, it was more than just getting back out there. Shannon wanted to make sure he didn’t injury himself again.

“I wanted to make sure when he returned to lifting, Logan had good form and core strength to decrease his injury risk,” Shannon said.

“Logan was extremely interested in learning what he could do differently, to help (his back) now and not have it happen again in the future.”

A big part of avoiding injury in the future was focusing on Logan’s core.

“In many conditions that result in back pain, core strength plays a big role in treatment,” Dr. Stork said. “Often times when people hear core strength, they think of the "six pack" abdominal muscles, but in reality it is much more involved as there are many more muscles (muscles that attach to the pelvis, spine, and abdomen) that truly contribute to an individual's core strength.” 

Even though throwing the shot put is Logan’s favorite sport, he missed qualifying for the state meet by only two inches, he was anxious to get back on the football field. To get back, Logan was going to have to put in the work. He missed the Lions’ first six games but was able to get back to the team before the end of the regular season.

“He was smart about his thought process on what needed to happen,” Shannon said. “Logan was a great listener and worked on his exercises at home. He worked hard and every week we were able to progress the weightlifting patterns to where he was comfortable enough to do it on his own.”

The more technique you have, the less you must worry


For the powerlifter though, Logan learned that strength depends on both weight and technique.

“Logan was surprised that the weight doesn’t have to be so heavy to still get a good workout,” Shannon said. “He also saw the benefits and can feel that he’s getting stronger without a large amount of load. Powerlifting can put increased pressure on the spine, and you need to be meticulous in your loading, volume and mechanics.”

Despite seeing progress, Shannon encouraged Logan not to rush back and allow himself time to adapt.

“Shannon had me work up to full practice over two weeks, before I returned to games, and doing that helped me a lot,” Logan said. “The coaches understood and when I got back, I stayed on the field.”

With time, technique and therapy, Logan was ready to be released back into action.

“His back responded more quickly than I expected,” Shannon said.

Logan returned to the Lions for the final two regular season football games, and on the final game not only did he play, but he was in the starting lineup at left guard. The following week, in the first round of the state playoffs, Logan started on both the offensive and defensive lines.

Returning to power


Now that the football season is over, Logan turns his focus back to powerlifting.

“I’m easing into it,” Logan said. “I went and saw a strength coach and he was really impressed with my flexibility and range of motion. The strength coach is working with Shannon on what I am able to do, and he will set up a program with videos that I will follow so I have the right technique.”

Looking back, Logan can see the benefits from his rehabilitation.

“I enjoyed (my rehabilitation program) a lot,” Logan said. “Shannon is very nice and fun. She understands what I am going through and she is helping me improve. Which I like.” 

He liked it so much that Logan is considering a career in strength training after high school.

“I want to help other kids avoid getting hurt in the weight room,” Logan said. “Since going through this experience, I have learned about several adults and kids that have suffered injury from not lifting correctly and they are paying for it as they get older. I have learned a lot of (techniques) here and I am going to try to incorporate it in our weight room.”

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