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July 2014

Degenerative Disc Disease: What you Need to Know and How to Care For It

by Nick A. Titley, M.S., NPI-Certified Posture Specialist

When a friend approached me about her degenerative disc disease, I suggested that she exercise in a safe manner and continue working with her health professional. Like her, you may not know about degenerative disc disease (DDD) or how to handle it. If you have DDD, know someone that's been diagnosed with it, or want to learn how to avoid it, then please keep reading.

To better understand DDD, you must first understand the roles of the intervertebral discs in your spinal column. The Mayfield Clinic website compares the spinal discs to jelly doughnuts because they have a tough outer wall and a soft nucleus. The disc sits comfortably between the vertebra of your spinal column and act as shock absorbers that stop your vertebra from rubbing together. Your discs are made up of 80 percent water, and as you age they slowly lose their water and their ability to absorb shock is reduced.

The Mayfield Clinic explains that degenerative disc disease (also called spondylosis) is not an actual disease but rather a condition in which your discs “degenerate,” or lose their flexibility and ability to cushion your spine. It can occur along any area of the spine as you age but is most common in the lumbar, or lower back, area. Your discs don’t have a good blood supply, so once injured they can’t repair themselves.

The effects of degenerative disc disease are caused by repeated stresses, strains, injuries and age itself. The wear and tear to your discs causes them to dry out and shrink. This could lead to arthritis, disc herniation or spinal stenosis, which increases pressure on your spinal cord and nerves, and may lead to back pain.

The Cedars Sinai Medical Center lists common symptoms for this condition on its website. DDD is characterized mainly by pain, weakness and numbness that affects the lower back, buttocks, thighs or the neck depending on where the affected discs are located. This pain can also radiate to the arms and hands. You may also have pain that gets worse while sitting, bending, lifting and twisting, or experience severe pain that lasts a few days to a few months before getting better.

If you also experience numbness and tingling in your extremities and weakness in the leg muscles or feet, and if you feel better while walking, running, changing positions or when lying down, then you may be suffering from DDD. I highly suggest you consult an doctor, physical therapist or chiropractor if you feel like you're suffering from any of the above problems.

The Laser Spine Institute website suggests that the progression of degenerative disc disease can be influenced by our daily activities. Good nutrition helps maintain fluid balance and will help you avoid dehydration. Avoid excessive alcohol intake because it dehydrates your body. Exercise is another beneficial change to incorporate into your routine. Physical activity—like walking, light weight training and swimming—will promote circulation, making it easier for your body to deliver a steady supply of oxygen and nutrients to damaged tissue for repair.

The University of Maryland Medical Center also stands by exercise as a vital aspect of recovery and maintenance of a healthy spine. Exercise can strengthen your abdomen, arms and legs, which will reduce back strain. Stretching reduces the risk of muscle spasms. In addition, weight bearing exercises help prevent loss of bone mass caused by osteoporosis. Aerobic exercises, the type that gets your heart pumping and pulse rate up, are good pain relievers as well. An NPI-Certified Posture specialist can assist you in creating an exercise program that will strengthen your body and decrease the chance of further injuries.

Degenerative disc disease could be affecting you right now as you sit, stand, walk or perform some other important activity. It's caused by wear and tear on your spinal discs and if you're not exercising or on a good diet you could be making it worse. Consult a health professional and begin exercising to help you deal with the pain you might be experiencing in your lower back and other areas.


  • Perry, M. (n.d.). Degenerative Disc Disease. . Retrieved May 17, 2014, from laserspineinstitute.com/back_problems/degenerative_disc_disease/treatment/exercises/
  • Bohinski, R. (2010, January 1). Degenerative disc disease (spondylosis). . Retrieved May 17, 2014, from mayfieldclinic.com/PE-DDD.htm#.U4OmaPldWSp
  • Degenerative Disc Disease. (n.d.). . Retrieved May 17, 2014, from cedars-sinai.edu/Patients/Health-Conditions/Degenerative-Disc-Disease.aspx
  • Degenerative Disc Disease: A Patient's Guide to Degenerative Disc Disease. (2013, July 3). . Retrieved May 17, 2014, from http://umm.edu/programs/spine/health/guides/degenerative-disc-disease


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