Degenerative Disc Disease
Degenerative Disc Disease involves the loss of height and hydration of the cartilage (shock
absorbers) between the bones of the spine, when subjected to a process of degeneration. The disc
loses its ability to perform its function anymore and can cause pain. It is a natural process which
occurs naturally and is a part of the aging process.
The Annulus Fibrosus loses water over a period of time making it increasingly unyielding to everyday
stresses placed on the spine. At birth the intervertabral discs are made up of 80% of water and the
loss of hydration leads to the disc drying out, resulting in poorer shock absorption and increased risk
of tears developing. Furthermore it creates a loss of compliance of the cartilage within the discs, this
means the forces are redistributed from the anterior and middle portions of the joints between the
vertebrae, to posterior aspect, which can ultimately cause Facet Arthitis.
Patients with DDD usually present with the following symptoms:
Experiencing pain when :
o Sitting for extended periods of time
o Rotating, bending or lifting
Pain is Decreased when:
o Changing positions often
o Lying down
o Staying active
Severe symptoms can include numbness and tingling in the legs and difficulties walking. The pain
that is experienced in the lower back is often chronic, and pains can be experienced in the buttocks.
DDD is usually a result of a twisting injury to the lower back, such as a person swinging a golf club. It
can also be caused by the simple wear and tear on the spine and is a part of the aging process. It is
fairly common, and it is estimated that 30% of people aged 30-50 will have some degree of disc
degeneration, however not all will experience pain or receive a diagnosis.
One method of physical management includes improving the coordination between the abdominal
and back muscles, with the aim to increase the patient's ability to resist higher loads within the discs.
It is important for a patient experiencing these lower back pains to continue to exercise, as the
psychological effect of suffering with DDD can lead to patients avoiding spinal movements due to the
assumption that their spine has become weaker due to the degeneration.
A basic exercise plan includes exercises such as:
Good Sitting Posture
Lumbar Extensions with Straight Arms (Reps: 10)
Back Extensions (Reps: 10)
Double Leg Bride
VIDEO : NHS Exercises for sciatica: degenerative disc disease
Figure 1 : The pressures generated in the lumbar
discs during the usual activities and posures of
life (Neumann, 2010)
Controlling Degenerative Disc Disease Pain
Step One – Stay Active
o Staying active is the most important aspect in controlling DDD pain, it can preserve
the functionality that still exists and exercise increases the blood flow, oxygen and
nutrient delivery to the back and discs, keeping them hydrated and as flexible as
possible. Exercise is also a way of increasing ones own wellbeing, through the
release of endorphins, a natural pain killer and stress reducer.
o A mixture of Strengthening and Aerobic Conditioning, coupled with a stretching
programme maintains and increases mobility.
Step Two – Correcting Posture
o Increased pain is experienced in patients with Degenerative Discs when sitting,
especially when slumped forward due to an increased pressure placed on the lower
back. sitting upright provides lower back support and prevents disc irritation.
o Chaging positions often relives the stress placed on the back and increases blood
flow and nutrient delivery. Standing or walking every 20-30 mins is enough to
prevent low back stiffness.
Step Three – Improving Nutrition
o A Healthy diet plays a large role the pain caused by Degenerative Disc Disaese,
Invertabrael Discs benefit from Hydration and Oxygenation.
o Hydration should be maintained throughout the day, with caffeinated drinks
avoided. Alcohol should be minimised as it decreases hydration and is a dpressant,
however using its affects to numb pain and self medicate can start a cysle of
o Smoking, or any nicotine intake should be eliminated as it prevents the good oxygen
flow needed to keep the spinal discs healthy.