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DDD and Alcohol

Hey guys,

New here... recently diagnosed with L4-L5 &L5-S1 disc herniation, arthritis, and DDD. The herniations have healed quite well, but I am still battling lumbar pain from the DDD.

I am a 24 y/o very active female. I play rugby, weight lift, snowboard, and every other activity I have the time for. I have since given up very heavy lifting and have learned to control my flare-ups to the best of my ability. Since strengthening my glutes and lower back the pain has gotten a tad bit better.

The main activity that gives me pain is running. Which is unfortunate because I am a rugby player! But I am learning my limitations and learning to deal with my back.

When I saw a specialist for my back, he was shocked that my back is so bad at my age. He said the MRI looks like something he would expect from someone 40+ years old... it just didn't make sense to him.

I am in the process of cutting back my alcohol use... I drink to excess on the weekends. Not looking for a lecture, I know it is not good in any facet of my life, but I was wondering... could this have progressed the degeneration in my back? After a night of heavy drinking my back is VERY bad. The pain in my legs and whatnot is horrible and nothing helps but time. I'm assuming this is from dehydration and I am well aware that these flareups are caused by alcohol. But could alcohol have predisposed me/exacerbated the development of DDD?

Just looking for opinions or experience with others with DDD regarding alcohol intake. Maybe this will finally get me to cut the habit or atleast cut back significantly...



  • waltfwwaltf Austin, TXPosts: 18
    Although all doctors would tell you that you should cut down your alcohol to two drinks per day, blah, blah, blah (wonder how many docs actually adhere to that themselves on a weekend night?), my guess is that once you have enough alcohol in your system and you are 'feeling no pain' then you probably move a little less guarded than you would while still feeling the pain. So, while you can't feel the pain, you possibly move more and aggrevate the pain and then feel it more the next day. This, combined with the dehydration, could be what is happening.
    Doctors will also tell you that excessive alcohol use can lead to nerve issues, this is most likely to be in the form of peripheral neuropathy and would be there all/most of the time (probably start in feet, burning pain, etc.).

    I myself drink more than I probably should every night; if I take pain medication (narcotics) too late in the evening then it keeps me up at night, so on painful nights a few more beers helps me sleep with my pain. I have DDD, had herniation of L5/S1 and 4X herniation of L4/L5 (3 discectomies and a fusion surgery) and now have 'failed back syndrome'. Does my alcohol comsumption make it worse? I did try a period between my first herniation (L5/S1) and subsequent L4/L5 herniations (which were about 6 years apart) where I cut out caffeine, cut alcohol to 1-2 drinks per day, exercised and watched my diet. I did this for about a 18 months and it did not make any significant difference in my daily average pain level.
  • I agree with everyone about being intoxicated probably allows you to feel less pain, so you do more thus aggravating your DDD, and I also agree that you should probably slow down the alcohol anyways, lots of us had "rage-r" years. More than just cutting down alcohol, I would also reevaluate contact sports like rugby. There is no easy answer for this, just know that every action does have consequences... so continuing to play rugby might give you years more pleasure and enjoyment, but could definitely make the DDD much worse as you age. This may or may not be a tradeoff you are willing to make. That's a personal decision, but you should think about it. I do think staying fit and active is great for your spine, so I encourage you to continue a fit/active life style. Keep us updated.
    33yo mom of two. My surgical history...preadolescence scoliosis, kyphosis, and a hot mess.... 5 spine surgeries and lots of items added I wasn't born with (titanium, peek, surgical steel). Guess cremation is out. TSA loves me.
  • I'm pretty certain you will find the answer to you're problems in the quoted sentence above.
    As for the drinking, well I'm pretty sure most everyone's disks would be a total mess if alcohol was to blame.
    We where all , or almost all , young and wild and crazy at one time in our life, some of us still are. LMAO !!
  • dilaurodilauro ConnecticutPosts: 9,852
    Not too bad considering what activities you have been involved with.
    I've others that said their backs looked like an 80 year old
    Whatever all that means.

    I see no connection between alcohol and spinal problems. Well, maybe one, if you (or anyone) gets intoxicated enough not to remember things, then perhaps that falling out of a chair or running into a wall might cause some pain in the morning.

    Ron DiLauro Spine-Health System Administrator
    I am not a medical professional. I comment on personal experiences
    You can email me at: rdilauro@veritashealth.com
  • Thanks for the replies! I am definitely learning to modify my active lifestyle, which is a battle in itself.

    While I never get "black out drunk" to the point of falling all over the place, I would agree with you guys that feeling good while drinking added with high heels + dancing probably doesn't help. I am slowly learning I am not invincible.

    I appreciate the honest feedback and I look forward to learning through other members' experiences on this forum. Cheers!
  • frozenffrozen Posts: 1
    edited 01/11/2014 - 6:03 PM
    Look at the EDIT institute's website. They say that alcohol makes ddd worse and not to drink alcohol if you have ddd, a herniated disc, stenosis or back pain. They said the studies don't show exactly why this is, but they have some theories. One theory is that it relaxes the muscles, from experience I disagree with that theory. My back pain feels much better when my muscles are relaxed. They offer a few other theories. I disagree with the theories, but from my own experience I know that alcohol aggravates my back pain and probably made my herniated disc worse. I've heard bad things about the laser spine institute. Hulk Hogan sued them I think for giving him surgeries for discs when he actually needed fusion surgery instead. But, spine experts do say that drinking alcohol is bad for back problems, so I've stopped drinking alcohol totally and my disc is healing very well.
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  • nightstar77nnightstar77 Posts: 1
    edited 01/11/2014 - 6:08 PM
    I believe it is well documented that those who are chemically dependent (alcoholic and heavy drinkers) do have a risk for spine and back issues as they age. Alcohol and nicotine, in my view, should be avoided completely when one has been diagnosed with lumbar disc challenges, stenosis, and lumbar disc degeneration, including scoliosis. Over use of and/or dependence upon alcohol tends to dehydrate the body. The discs in the spine need to be fully hydrated all of the time. I have found that drinking plenty of water each day does help my stenosis, lumbar disc degeneration, arthritis, and lumbar degenerational scoliosis. I have a double curve, which continues to progress as time moves forward.

    I also am a firm believer of limiting sugar, sugar products, baked goods, and other sweets in ones diet. Natural fruits and plenty of fresh vegetables are a good substitute for processed baked goods, along with whole wheat bread, flax seed, wheat germ, fish, fish oil, chicken, cheese and beans. I do not eat beef, pork or ham and other processed foods like bacon. I know the pain we suffer is at times unbearable. For me, watching my diet, and doing body/mind/spirit work and living only in the moment have helped me tremendously. Positive thoughts produce positive energy. Keeping busy and keeping your mind on something other than yourself, does make my day much more rewarding.

    In my view, eliminating alcohol, tobacco products, processed foods, and junk foods from my diet, and drinking plenty of either Spring water or pure water, help to keep my pain at bay. Some of the foods I've found that do not work for my arthritis are tomatoes, potatoes, processed foods (ham, bacon, etc.), and white flour, including white pasta. I like to use whole wheat products, and pasta.

    I also believe in meditation, and I meditate every evening, with meditations. He is my inspiration, and has brought me through 11 years of lumbar disc herniation, (L-4-5/S 1, with many pinched nerves in that area of my spine and stenosis), osteoarthritis of the spine and joints, and adult onset scoliosis. If you are interested in his philosophy, visit his website.

    Post edited to remove physician's name. Spine Health does not allow the naming of specific institutions or physicians in it's forums.
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  • Sometimes it's just genetics or bad luck as I was told by my daughters doctor. She is 16 and has severe DDD at her L4-L5 and L5-S1 discs. Doctors are very shocked about how bad it is also. She's had 2 lumbar disectomies and now being told fusion is the only other option for pain relief. The dr. says absolutely no smoking or being around second hand smoke the rest of her life because it will make her disc's even worst faster. So I would think alcohol would be the same. Just my opinion though. Good luck.
  • This isn't a comment on the alcohol because I'm not going to tell you to stop because I'm 29 and I love drinking my wine and my back is so bad it makes other backs looks young and sexy in comparison and one time I donated a kidney so I really should not drink that much. I live life on the edge.

    I will tell you this. Stop running. Right now. Right this instant stop running. When I was first diagnosed I ran 30+ miles a week and did not want to give up running. I loved it and it was my life. I had actually had just ran a half in the swiss alps just before my diagnosis. When I expressed my concern to my physical therapist she showed me a demonstration. She had a small little skeleton on her desk, she grabbed the skeleton around the waist with the legs down and then proceeded to slam the skeleton over and over on the desk. She said to me "This is pretty much what you're doing to your spine when you run". I stopped running and promptly gained 20 lbs because thats what happens when you quit running but don't quit eating the amount you ate when you ran (I've since lost it thank you very much). But since then I've only had two bad flare ups.
    Unfortunately, you cannot live your life like you did. You can "run through the pain" but you're doing irreversible damage to your spine. I recently gave up yoga (which is actually great for your spine but awful your your soul if you're like me) to take up weight lifting and promptly herniated two discs. Just like that. Bam. And I was working through the pain. I said "I really want to look buff". But last week I had such excruciating pain I couldn't stand up. Literally I could not stand on my own perfectly functioning two legs. My husband had to carry me to the car, carry my to the wheelchair, carry my to the gurney, carry me to the potty :( he's a good man. And yeah. thats my story.
    Take care of your back and listen to your body. It sucks and you'll mourn. I mourned. Find some other physical activity that you enjoy but not so bad on your back because if you keep doing the sports your doing you'll find yourself unable to walk much less play rugby.

  • The bottom line I think is this: Any addictive behavior is bad for your spine. Your spine needs frequent, varied, gentle movement in all directions. If alcohol causes you to be sedentary, to rest in unnatural positions, or to move in rough and careless ways, then it is bad for your spine. But there are lots of addictive behaviors that can do the same thing. If using a computer causes you to be sedentary or to remain in unnatural positions, then that is bad for your spine, too.

    You have to keep moving. I am a huge advocate for yoga for this reason.
    C5-C6 and L5-S1 degenerative discs and bone spurs at age 47. (bummer).
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