Zach Gough

Zach Gough

Zach Gough is no ordinary athlete. A competitive bodybuilder for the last 10 years, he knows just how critical it is to keep your body functioning properly.

In 2013, he was working as a manager at Aldi Supermarkets and herniated a disc. The herniation pinched a nerve and almost immediately began causing intense pain in his left leg. A succession of treatments and therapies over several months offered little pain relief. Physical therapy. Three epidural injections. Vax-D spinal decompression. Chiropractic.

“I tried everything,” Gough recalls. “Nothing worked.”

A co-worker’s spouse had seen Spine Surgeon Christopher Sliva, M.D., at Rockford Spine Center and suggested he make an appointment.

“When he saw me in March 2013, Dr. Sliva knew how bad it was and said he could fix it easily,” Gough says. “I learned how many of these he had done and his experience with the procedure and that really put me at ease.”

Within three days of that appointment, Gough was admitted to the hospital and prepped for surgery. His pain had escalated and he was on a medication pump to help control the discomfort. At that point, any hesitation he had about having surgery had vanished.

“My whole life was just revolving around the pain,” he says. “I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t sleep. The pain was so intense, it felt like a knife going down my leg.”

Dr. Sliva performed a L-4/5 METRx minimally-invasive microdiscectomy. This technique uses dilators and tubes to allow the surgeon to see and remove herniated discs or fragments while protecting the nerve roots and spinal cord.

“Zach’s case from a clinical standpoint was a relatively straight-forward problem where a disk herniates and puts pressure on the nerve,” recalls Dr. Sliva. “What made his case most interesting was his drive to improve his physical activity and his ability to change his life.”

Gough remembers waking up after the surgery “like it was a normal day” and the pain was gone. He began his post-surgical recovery with slow walking on a treadmill, building up strength in both legs after compensating with the right leg due to the pain in the left.

“This type of microsurgery is the same type of surgery that is performed on high performance athletes as well as on patients who work in labor-intensive jobs and those who do not,” explains Dr. Sliva. “The advantage is that there is minimal muscle and tissue disruption which allows a rapid recovery. We see this more significantly in competitive athletes, but it is, in fact, the case for any given individual undergoing this type of minimally invasive surgery.”

Zach was diligent with his physical therapy and within three months was using free weights. Six months later, he was back to competitions.

“Like any injury, you have to switch things up a bit,” he says. “I train smarter now and I avoid sudden movements and I have a closer mind-muscle connection.”

Today, Gough continues to compete in events across the U.S., including the ESPN Mr. Universe and he has the trophy case to prove it. He recently earned five first-place finishes in the Grand Prix National Championships in May.

“After I was injured, I had been trying everything to avoid the surgery,” says Gough. “I’ve actually progressed more in my competitions and training after the surgery. I thought the surgery was the end but for me it was really the beginning.”