Have you got Disc Degeneration?
I was told I had severe Disc Degeneration in my lower back in my early 30’s when I experienced a prolapsed disc. This put me about a bit until I realised that it wasn’t as bad as it sounded and it was manageable in most cases.
It is one of the most common causes of back and neck pain, as it’s caused by wear and tear of your spinal discs.
However this is a natural part of the ageing process and over time everyone experiences it.
In my case I was just experiencing it earlier in life.
This was possibly down to the massive amount of pressure I put on my body regularly, through high impact exercise.
I was a bit of a Cardio Junkie and taught numerous fitness classes a week as well as my own exercise sessions.
Some people who have disc degeneration are unfortunate that they experience pain, causing friction, inflammation and in some cases compression of the nerves which results in weakness, numbness and shooting pains in the arm or leg.
But most of the time, it does not result in long-term pain and discomfort, and majority of cases can be managed using non-surgical treatment methods.
Other people may find out they have it but have never experienced any negative effects from it.
This is because the degeneration of the disc doesn’t always lead to pain. The pain usually occurs when the disc affects other spinal structures, such as joints, muscles or nerves.
Disc Degeneration pain disc is usually caused by two main factors:
Inflammation – Inflammatory proteins from the disc and leak out and cause muscle tension, muscle spasms, and soreness in the back or neck. It can also cause the nerve root to become inflamed which can result in numbness or shooting pains.
Micro-motion Instability – The discs provide cushioning for the spine so when the discs degenerate this can cause small unnatural movements between the vertebrae which are called Micro-motions.
These movements can cause tension and irritation in the muscles, joints and nerve roots. As the instability progresses this can cause intermittent episodes of back pain and the intensity can be much higher.
Both inflammation and micro-motion instability can cause lower back or neck muscle spasms. These spasms are the bodies way of trying to help stabilise the spine and can be the cause of flare ups of intense pain.
Majority of cases of pain can be managed through a combination of pain management methods, exercise and lifestyle adaptations.
The objective of pain management is to reduce pain as much as possible, so people can carry out daily activities and rehabilitation exercises more easily.
Here’s a few methods you could use as self care practices.
Use Ice Packs
Applying ice to the effected area helps to reduce inflammation. This is useful to do as soon as you have a flare up or after your rehabilitation exercises if they cause discomfort.
Apply for 10 mins as often as you can throughout the first day or two. Don’t apply directly to the skin
Use Heat Therapy
Using heat pads, hot bottle bottles or even having a hot bath relaxes the muscles and reduces tension and muscle spasms. It also improves circulation to the area stimulating more nutrients and oxygen to the muscles to help heal the affected area.
For low to mild pain you can use over the counter painkillers. Pain relievers like Paracetamol or anti-inflammatories such as Ibuprofen, Aspirin and Naproxen.
For severe pain you may need to visit your doctor for prescription painkillers such as muscle relaxants.
Visit specialists such as Chiropractor or Osteopath who will manually adjust the spine to relieve muscle and joint tension and remove pressure from a trapped nerve.
Or visit a Physiotherapist who will relieve muscle and joint tension too.
These therapies may provide temporary relieve so are great to work alongside rehabilitation exercises that will help improve mobility and increase stability and core strength, which are needed for long term relieve.
These may be used in severe cases to provide temporary pain relief, which will help to improve mobility. This will then enable the person to be able to perform rehabilitation exercises more easily.
Small, simple changes to your daily routines can help improve your overall health including the health of your spine
Drink plenty of water – As well as us needed water for our body to stay hydrated. Our discs are made up of 85% water, so not drinking enough water can dehydrate the discs
Move Regularly – Avoid sitting or standing in one position for too long. Every 20-30mins get up and move around.
Be Mindful of Your Posture – Use ergonomic furniture to support you such as desk chairs and a sit to stand desk
Avoid slouching and sitting with your legs crossed
A good rehabilitation programme will help the spine heal, improve mobility, flexibility, stability and core strength which in turn helps to prevent or reduce further recurrences.
An additional benefit of an exercise programme is that it helps reduce pain naturally due to the release of endorphins – body’s natural pain reliever!
Stretching specific areas helps to decrease muscular tension and improves flexibility in the spinal muscles.
For neck pain, focusing on stretching the neck, shoulders and upper back can relieve pain.
Focusing on stretching muscles in the lower back, hips and hamstrings helps.
Strengthening Your Core
Improving the strength of your core gives your spine more support and stability which will reduce pain.
This will also lead to better posture. Poor postural habits contribute to us putting unnecessary pressure on the spine and discs which results in more pain especially if we have Disc Degeneration
Regular aerobic exercise such as walking is also important for keeping the joints mobile and maintaining good circulation.
Pilates exercises are perfect to help people with Disc Degeneration as they focus on improving your mobility, flexibility and stability as well as increasing core strength.
It is the method I used myself to recover from my Prolapse disc. And I still practice regularly today, as it has helped me prevent any further reoccurrences of back pain.
Lots of my customers have also prevented any reoccurrences through attending our Pilates classes regularly
For an introduction to our Pilates classes so you can sample the benefits yourself, check out our 21 day Pilates Programme
Hope you’ve found this article useful and you now have a better understanding about what Disc Degeneration is and how you can manage your symptoms.