For those dealing with degenerative disc disease, the symptoms can limit daily activities and decrease your quality of life. In order to help the body return to its prior capability levels, specific exercises are often prescribed as a conservative approach to symptom management.
What causes degenerative disc disease?
Over time, spinal discs naturally degenerate, resulting in decreased flexibility in the spine and increased chance of injury. So how does age cause degenerative disc disease? According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, at birth, water comprises 90 percent of the body; at adulthood, it comprises 70 percent of the body; and by age 90, it comprises about 50 percent of the body. Additionally, as people age, their elastin, the protein that gives tissues the ability to stretch, undergoes chemical cross-linking that limits its ability to stretch. As bodies dehydrate and become less flexible, they can experience disc degeneration.
Discs have two main components, a tough outer wall and an inner soft gelatinous core. When loading pressure occurs along the spinal column, the core squeezes outward against the outer wall of the disc. The elastic recoil of the containment wall pushes the gelatinous core back into position, re-establishing the height and shape of the disc. As a person ages, natural daily activity causes repeated loading of the disc and small tears may develop in the fibers of the tough outer layer. This damage causes some loss of the outer wall’s elasticity or recoil. The outer disc wall can no longer push the core material back into shape as effectively, causing it to bulge. The disc can even tear, causing the core to push out into the spinal column
The progression of degenerative disc disease can be influenced by our daily activities. Good nutrition helps maintain fluid balance and avoid dehydration, so watch what you eat and drink. Start by avoiding excessive alcohol intake because it dehydrates the body. If you are diabetic, you should work to prevent or control this condition as well. Diabetes dehydrates and causes changes in capillary blood vessel walls, interfering with removal of waste materials from the body and disrupting the delivery of oxygen and nutrients. Your physician can help you find methods to prevent or control diabetes.
Exercise can be beneficial
If you have degenerative disc disease, exercise is another beneficial change to incorporate into your routine. Physical activity promotes circulation, making it easier for the body to deliver a steady supply of oxygen and nutrients to damaged tissue for repair. Exercise also delays the formation of cross-linking of elastin, a process that leaves the body less flexible.
Certain exercises and therapeutic machines are commonly recommended for people coping with degenerative disc disease because the movements are designed to improve flexibility, strength and range of motion. Here are a few examples:
- Spinal traction, which involves stretching your back to relieve pain caused by muscle tightness or compressed nerves
- Yoga, which strengthens back and abdominal muscles
- Exercise ball stretches or wall pushups, which add flexibility to your spine and muscles
- Low-impact aerobic activities such as swimming, bicycling and walking, which can increase your circulation and strengthen your muscles
To learn about other therapeutic choices, you can review our page concerning physical therapy for degenerative disc disease. It’s very important that you do not start any exercise program without first consulting your physician in order to avoid making your degenerative disc disease worse.
Other treatment options
It’s possible that your symptoms from degenerative disc disease may not respond to exercise and other conservative treatments, and your physician may then suggest surgery. If you are not experiencing relief from your pain after weeks or months of conservative options, you should determine the least invasive surgical treatment possible. Currently, the least invasive form of spine surgery is minimally invasive spine surgery, such as the procedures performed at USA Spine Care, to treat degenerative disc disease. We offer minimally invasive decompression and procedures with shorter recovery periods^ and lower risks of complication than traditional open spine surgery. Contact us today to learn more about our state-of-the-art procedures and for a review of your MRI report or CT scan.
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