Degenerative disc disease is a condition that can be described as thinning or bulging of the intervertebral discs of the spine. It is extremely common with thousands of Americans being diagnosed every year. However, more and more research is showing that many of these changes should be considered a normal any are not completely responsible for why a person hurts.
Degenerative disc disease is often diagnosed in the presence of back pain. A person in pain may choose to consult with a physician. X-rays and/or MRI’s might be ordered as part of the diagnostic process. An image is taken which may reveal thinning or bulging the intervertebral discs. The patient is then given the diagnosis of degenerative disc disease.
However, images can be misleading. There have been many studies that show that degenerative changes on x-ray have a very poor correlation with pain. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Signs of degeneration are present in very high percentages of healthy people with no problem at all. Many of these degenerative changes found on images are part of normal aging and are NOT associated with pain.
Pain is complex and is influenced by more than what is happening on a structural level. In the presence of back pain, we may find tension, trigger points (knots), and tightness of lower back muscles. In addition, stiffness of the upper back and hips might be present. Weakness of the core and buttock muscles can be problematic as well. In many cases, proper movement needs to be taught (e.g. how to engage the posterior chain) to help offload irritated back muscles. However, the only way to know what may be contributing to lower back pain is to have a thorough assessment performed.
If the lower back is irritated, hands-on therapy to alleviate pain should be performed. This might include dry needling, soft tissue mobilization, or manipulation of the lumbar spine. Creating movement at the thoracic spine and hips can also reduce pain in the lower back.
Pain and poor mobility often go together. If pain is alleviated and stiffness and tension through the spine and hips are reduced, mobility often improves. The next step is to perform targeted exercises so the pain and mobility improvements hold. These exercises should target the muscles of the spine, core, and hips.
Once these muscles can engage better, activities, and movements to train these muscles in full patterns should be performed. The progression should move from simple activation exercises to more dynamic movement patterns.
A rehabilitation program that uses a whole-body approach will alleviate pain, restore movement, and develop strength. If you know how to move well and strengthen your body, it will enable you to be active even if you've been diagnosed with degenerative disc disease.
Have you been diagnosed with degenerative disc disease? Do you have pain with prolonged sitting or standing? Do you want to get back to tennis or golf, hiking, biking, lifting weights, and spending quality time with your family? Are you concerned about injections or surgeries if your back condition worsens?
If you answered "YES" to any of those questions, the physical therapists at Movement Solutions would be glad to be a resource for you. We have a free guide on relieving back pain and stiffness that can give you further insight into back problems and help kickstart your recovery. We are available for a free 15-minute phone consultation to answer your questions before you book an appointment.
If you want help, we offer a limited number of free Discovery Visits. This type of appointment or for those who are considering physical therapy. It is an opportunity to obtain clarity about your back pain, and develop confidence that we can help you.
If you’re certain that we’re a good fit and ready to book an appointment, you can ask about cost and availability and get the process started.
If you’re in pain and unsure about what your next step should be, call us at (864) 558-7346 and ask how we can help.