For those dealing with degenerative disc disease, the symptoms can limit daily activities. In order to help the body return to its prior capability levels, specific exercises are often prescribed as a conservative approach to symptom management.
Over time, intervertebral discs naturally degenerate, resulting in decreased flexibility in the spine and increased susceptibility to injury. Precisely how does age cause degenerative disc disease? Medical research has found the following: 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, an outer fibro-elastic containment rim and an inner soft gelatinous core. When axial loading pressure occurs along the spinal column, the central gelatinous core of the disc squeezes outward against the fibro-elastic containment rim 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 fibro-elastic outer containment wall. This damage causes some loss of the disc’s outer containment wall elasticity or recoil. The outer disc containment wall can no longer push the central core material back into shape as effectively. The outer containment wall sags, also known as bulging or collapsing. The disc may even break open (herniate).
The progression of degenerative disc disease can be influenced by our daily activities. Good nutrition helps maintain fluid balance and avoid dehydration, so take care with what you eat and drink. Start by avoiding excessive alcohol intake because it dehydrates the body. You should also work to prevent or control your diabetes. 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.
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 retards 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 alleviate 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.
In some cases, patients may not respond to exercise and other conservative treatments for degenerative disc disease, and their physicians suggest surgery. If you aren’t experiencing relief from your pain after weeks or months of conservative options, it is reasonable to determine the least invasive surgical treatment possible. Please investigate the minimally invasive procedures performed at Laser Spine Institute. We offer effective procedures with shorter convalescent periods and lower risk than traditional open spine surgeries of all types. Contact us today for a review of your MRI or CT scan, and to receive more information about our facilities.