Tips on how to manage your spine and neck
Let’s look at ways that we can improve our lives with this frustrating condition called degenerative disc disease
What is degenerative disc disease?
Degenerative disc disease is not really a disease. It is a condition of the spine and neck where the discs between vertebrae lose cushioning, begin to fragment and herniate related to aging. There may be no symptoms. In some cases, the spine loses flexibility and bone spurs may pinch a nerve root, causing pain or weakness. Frankly, some days, it sucks. I was just recently diagnosed and it can be so painful.
There are many reasons why DDD effects us
Approximately 40% of adults over age 40 have at least one degenerated vertebral disc. By age 80, 80% of us can have disc issues. Because the body breaks down as we age, this is a normal condition of getting older. Disc deterioration can start developing in your 30s or 40s, and then progressively worsen. The condition can also be caused by injury and overuse, which may result from sports or repetitive activities. Once a disc is damaged, it can’t repair itself. The good news is that you can do things to improve your quality of life.
Some people develop osteoarthritis
Osteoarthritis, also called degenerative joint disease, is the most common type of arthritis. It is associated with a breakdown of cartilage in joints and can occur in almost any joint in the body. It most commonly occurs in the weight-bearing joints of the hips, knees, and spine. You can have degenerative discs and not be arthritic or be arthritic without broken down discs. They are not the same thing.
What is the best treatment for degenerative disc disease?
The silver lining is that you can live with this disorder if you make some key changes to your life. Treatment can include exercise, hot and cold therapy, weight loss, quitting smoking and physical therapy. Four key changes that can immediately start effecting your body in a positive way are to quit smoking, lose some weight, improve your posture and use a correct chair or stand up desk while working.
- Smoking: According to a recent study by the Association of Academic Physiatrists, smoking damages the small blood vessels that feed nutrition to your spinal discs.
- Weight loss: being just 10 pounds lighter will benefit the spine.
- Posture: Checking in on your posture regularly throughout your day will be beneficial and reduce inflammation around the discs.
- Sitting for prolonged periods: Maybe you are at a desk all day in an uncomfortable chair. Look for a more ergonomic style that supports your spine. It is suggested to use a standing desk, also called a stand-up desk. They basically allow you to stand up comfortably while working.
Movements to avoid
If you have degenerative disc disease, exercises to avoid are any exercise that causes pain and discomfort. The old adage “No pain, no gain” can be chucked out the window. If it hurts, stop doing it. If you continue to push your spine and contort it, you can worsen your condition which can lead to long term dysfunction. It is typically not a good idea to continue heavy lifting when you have upper or lower back pain. Some yoga positions can exacerbate your condition so be careful when pushing the spine too much. The key is to listen to your body. If it hurts, stop.
How should you sleep when you have degenerative disc disease?
Sleeping on your back is the most supportive and comfortable position to sleep in if you have DDD. However, it’s best if you use supports to keep your spine neutral all night long. Back sleepers: Sleep with a pillow under your knees to maintain your spine’s natural lower back curve. Side sleepers: get a body pillow to place between your knees to keep your spine curving naturally.
Getting started on a new and beneficial routine will help
A diagnosis of degenerative disc disease could be just the motivation you need to lose extra weight, become more physically active, stop smoking, and or make other lifestyle changes to benefit your spine and general health.
Get moving! Just don’t lift crazy amounts of weight and really focus on your posture.
Seek a professional for help
Physiatrists are physicians who specialize in physical medicine and rehabilitation, a medical specialty that deals with the evaluation and treatment of patients whose functional abilities have been impaired.
Physical therapist is a doctor that can help stretch and strengthen the right muscles to help the back heal and reduce the frequency of painful flare-ups.
Massage Therapists can help improve the symptoms associated with disc disorders for a prolonged duration of time as long as you continue to follow the maintenance schedule that your massage therapist lays out for you. Massage therapy will typically reduce muscle strain, improves flexibility, and mitigates pain
A few at-home remedies for back and neck pain
Ice Application: applying ice to muscles that are painful after activity or exercise will help control pain and inflammation. Using ice packs on the lower back for 10 minutes can be a cost-effective, easy approach to take at home.
Heat Application Using heat from a heating pad, adhesive wrap, warm bath or other heat source can relax the surrounding muscles and reduce tension and spasms, a significant contributor to degenerative disc pain.
Sometimes the pain is unbearable and over the counter meds may be necessary. I don’t recommend ANY of them due to the plethora of side effects. See your doctor for this part.
After doing my research, I feel a sense of hope that this diagnosis is just that… a diagnosis. It isn’t the worst news I could have received. I know that with hard work and some determination, I can alleviate my pain and calm down the inflammation with diet changes and an exercise routine. Never give up. Never give in. Until you are six feet under, there is still a chance to fix things. The pain is there and that is inevitable but with some of the remedies contained in this blog, I hope you can find some relief and get on with living your best life. Take care. Shannon