Degenerative disc disease is a difficult condition to live with. However, it does not need to hinder the rest of your life. Here are three things you can do to control your Disc Degeneration.
1) Stay active to slow the disc degeneration
Once pain is adequately controlled (it will most likely not go away completely) the most important thing patients can do is stay active.
Exercises not only preserve what functionality exists; they are the single best way of healing the back. Exercise increases the flow of blood and oxygen and other nutrients to the back and discs, thereby keeping them hydrated and as pliable as possible. Exercise can also improve one's sense of well-being by promoting the release of endorphins, a natural pain-reliever and stress reducer.
Staying active does not require a lot of innovation, but it does require planning, such as:
- Alternating 30 minutes of strengthening exercises with low-impact exercise like walking, biking or swimming every other day can maintain flexibility and mobility, as well as control weight.
- Doing five minutes of stretches (e.g. hamstring stretches) first thing in the morning and the last thing before bed will also significantly increase mobility.
- Investing in a few hour-long sessions with a physical therapist or certified athletic trainer knowledgeable about low back pain can provide adequate guidance and ideas for back exercises that can be done with and without exercise equipment.
2) Modify daily activities that stress the low back
The corollary to undertaking productive activity is stopping destructive activity, and there are many opportunities throughout the day to modify common actions that can hurt a degenerated disc, such as:
- Correcting posture and using low back support. Degenerated discs are frequently more painful when an individual is sitting, especially if he or she is slumped forward putting more pressure on the lower back. Sitting upright in an ergonomic chair that provides low back support for the natural curve in the lumbar region can prevent irritating discs. Also, hanging a small mirror near their desk can allow patients to check posture and remind them to straighten up.
- Changing position often to relieve stress and increase blood flow. Just standing and walking 10 paces every 20 or 30 minutes is enough to prevent low back stiffness from setting in.
- Lifting heavy objects correctly. This involves holding the object close to the body, engaging the large quadriceps muscles in the thighs and placing the object by pivoting the feet, not twisting the back or torso. Leaning over from the waist should be avoided.
- Finally, sleeping on a comfortable, supportive mattress can make the difference between waking up refreshed and waking up stiff and sore. There are many mattresses designed to provide support to the natural curves of the back, and patients should choose the type of mattress they feel most comfortable in to help them sleep soundly at night.
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3) Improve nutrition to improve low back health
The health of one's spine reflects the overall health of the body, and a healthy diet plays a role in moderating the low back pain of degenerative disc disease. Specifically, intervertebral discs benefit from hydration and oxygenation. Patients can achieve both with small changes:
- Hydration can be improved by sipping water throughout the day, especially during and after exercise, as well as eliminating or reducing use of caffeinated drinks such as coffee, some teas, and soda
- Alcohol use should be minimized. Alcohol not only decreases hydration, it is a depressant. Using alcohol to self-medicate and numb pain can start a cycle of unhealthy actions, interfering with everything from sleep quality, the ability to make healthy food choices, and the motivation to exercise.
- Smoking should be curtailed because it interferes with nutrition for the spinal discs by preventing good oxygen flow.
Although the term degenerative disc disease sounds fearsome, for most people the low back pain and other symptoms from lumbar degenerative disc disease can be managed quite effectively with self-care By making a concerted effort at managing the pain, most patients will find that they can keep the pain to a tolerable level and continue to enjoy their favorite activities without having to undergo major surgery.