Question: Is it Possible to Rehabilitate the Back Despite Degenerative Disc Disease?

I am a 32 year old female and have chronic low back and leg pain that goes down to my foot on the left. An MRI showed degenerative disc disease L3 thru S1, a diffuse bulge at L4/5 (worse to the left) and facet osteoarthropathy mildly impinging the L5 nerve roots. It also showed an annular tear at L5/S1 and posterior protrusions at L3/4 and L4/5. I am due to have an epidural block for the leg pain and facet injections. I am also in physical therapy.

Do you think it is possible to rehabilitate my back to the level of being able to lift in excess of 50 lbs? If I pick up my 25 lb child too much, my back pain gets worse.

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Doctor’s Response: Very Possible, but Will Require Rehabilitation or Microdecompression

In all likelihood, a lot of the findings that are on your MRI scan were there before you were having much back pain. The findings on your MRI are not specific or diagnostic of any specific pathology. Probably the more important question is whether or not your nerve root is pinched by the disc bulge.

If it is, the epidural may help calm down the inflammation. At that point, exercises would be helpful. If the injection does not help, you may want to see a spine surgeon to see if you would be a candidate for a microdecompression.

Rehabilitation is probably your best place to start. Assuming that it helps relieve your back pain, I do not know why you wouldn't be able to lift 50lbs, as there are not any significant structural defects in your back based on the MRI scan findings.

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In Spine-health’s Doctor Advice section, physicians respond to frequently asked questions about back pain issues. These responses represent the opinion of one physician, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the broader medical community. The advice presented has not been peer reviewed by Spine-health’s medical advisory board.