The goals for treatment of degenerative disc disease usually include a combination of three areas: pain control; exercise and rehabilitation; lifestyle modifications.
The focus of this part of treatment is on achieving enough pain reduction to enable the patient to pursue a specific exercise and rehabilitation program. Pain from a degenerated or collapsed disc is usually caused by both instability and inflammation, so both of these causes of pain should be addressed.
For most people treatment is nonsurgical and may include one or a combination of many medical, alternative, and/or self care approaches. Often a patient needs to take a trial and error approach to find which types of treatment work best.
The operative solutions, a fusion or artificial disc, are extensive surgeries and patients are usually advised to make a serious effort with nonsurgical treatments for at least 6 months prior to considering surgery.
Exercise and Rehabilitation
The goals of exercise are both to help the back heal and to prevent or reduce further recurrences of pain. For people with symptomatic degenerative disc disease, exercises are usually best done under the guidance of a physical therapist or other appropriately trained healthcare professional.
A side benefit of exercise is that it can also help reduce pain naturally, as it releases endorphins that serve as the body's natural pain reliever.
Exercise is best done in a controlled progressive manner and with the help of a trained health professional, such as a physiatrist, physical therapist, or chiropractor.
The focus of this part of treatment is education and resources to help the patient develop a healthier lifestyle.
Often, people can make lifestyle changes that aim at both avoiding stress on the spine and supporting the spine through the right ergonomics and posture.
In addition, many people can benefit from the following changes:
- Avoid nicotine
- Avoid excess alcohol
- Incorporate movement into one's daily routine and avoid staying in one position for too long. For example, stand up and stretch and walk around every 20 to 30 minutes instead of sitting for a prolonged period.
- Drink plenty of water
- For lower back pain from DDD, most patients can benefit from a gentle hamstring stretching routine
There are many options in each of the above three areas.