Have you heard of or been told you have degenerative disc disease? You are not alone! Most likely if you have been to the doctor for low back pain you may have received an x-ray where your "thin discs" were identified as the cause for your pain. Low back pain is very multifactorial and to blame your pain solely on your thinning discs would be like blaming a bad car engine on the old tires, not complete!
What is Degenerative Disc Disease
Degenerative disc disease (DDD) has been previously known as wear and tear or a thinning of the discs in the spine due to them breaking down. First off, this is simply not true for 99% of you. Thinning of the discs is a NORMAL AGE RELATED CHANGE that is not related to a disease, condition, or breakdown of any kind and most likely has a minimal relationship to your low back pain. DDD may present with or without sciatica, but the sciatica pain is usually unrelated to the DDD finding. Many people refer to this as a condition to blame for your issue but this simply isn't true and is not backed by evidence.
You can Relax!
So I hope you are already starting to feel better about this "disease" so we can reduce its threat level a bit and understand it is a normal process. This is not a traditional disease, it isn't going to kill you, it isn't going to disable you (insert deep breaths here). However let's assume your discs are thinning, and you have been told you exhibit some degenerative changes in your discs, what can we do about it?!
What to do if you have Disc Degeneration
Often these individuals are told their spine is fragile, weak, and they need to take it easy due to their "age/condition". Often prescribing lack of ability (stop exercising) is the same as prescribing disability, not good! This is one of the principles outlined in our FREE LOW BACK GUIDE. Additionally these individuals might be told a disc herniation or disc bulge was also seen with their degeneration on an image and they should be extra careful. This is quite common and this is a LIE. How are you supposed to live the rest of your life with a message like this? Let's change that message! There are many ways we can improve the health of our spine and our discs, and some of the most beneficial ways are through the avenues we are usually told aren't safe, like exercise!
Listed: percentage of individuals who have no pain, but have signs of disc degeneration on imaging. This indicates NORMAL FINDINGS.
Exercise for Disc Degeneration
Yes, that's right, degenerative disc disease treatment may include exercise! The number of people that have been told their spine or discs will become further damaged from squatting, deadlifting, running, or other forms of exercise has astonished me. This could not be further from the truth, and is a message that is so disabling I believe it should be considered malpractice. Our bodies were made to exercise, and usually spine/disc disorders are caused by a lack of exercise! We were designed to move and there is nothing more important for our health than to find enjoyable ways to move. Rest DOES NOT WORK and is a very outdated prescription. Prescribing "rest" is prescribing disability, and I am not about that.
How does Exercise Help?
Let's get back to the disc degeneration though. How is exercise going to help disc degeneration? Well, here's how. Just like muscles, without exercise the discs receive no stimulus and lose circulation and blood flow thus thinning out and becoming weak. Just like when you stress a muscle and it adapts and grows, a disc can do the same thing! If you provide a stimulus to the disc, it will have a positive regenerative response due to the load itself and the improved circulation/blood flow. Belavy et al. found movements that were beneficial to discs to be dynamic, axial, slow and moderate speeds, and similar to that of walking and jogging. Movements found to be detrimental to discs are flexion and compression (bending forward with weight), torsional (twisting) , high impact, and lack of physical activity! Another study in 2017 showed that runners had better disc height and properties than individuals that didn't exercise, especially in the low back.
How 72 Year Old Doneta Beat DDD
Here is an example of an incredible lady Doneta who had DDD and sciatica who was motivated to resolve her low back pain, and how she did it! Watch this!
Summary for Disc Degeneration
So what does this mean? Use it or lose it! A specific spine rehabilitation program could do wonders for these individuals which includes slowly progressing spine loading exercises that have been identified for them with some walking/jogging or other cardiovascular related activity incorporated.
So rather than letting ourselves feel sentenced with this so called "disease", let's laugh it off knowing that we understand it isn't a serious diagnosis, it is very normal, and we know exactly how to combat it. We are empowered! We just need a plan of attack!
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