Prevent Degenerative Disc Disease and Relieve Lower Back Pain

Degenerative disc disease is not actually a disease at all. It is a condition that is all too often misunderstood—and therefore ignored—until it advances into more severe conditions such as spinal stenosis and osteoarthritis. If you learn how to take care of your back in a preventive manner and to address lower back pain and potential injuries early on, you can prevent degenerative disc disease and maintain your spinal mobility.

What is Degenerative Disc Disease?

In between the bones or vertebrae of your spine you have soft tissue discs. These discs are made up of a fibrous outer wall and a gel-like center. They are the shock absorbers of your spine and are what allow you to jump up and down without injuring your spine, and to twist, turn, and bend without breaking it.

f8e4c2bd351ec5f80c94e990eff32c11It is traditionally thought that the wearing down of these discs is an uncontrollable byproduct of aging—but age is not the cause of degenerative disc disease. It just so happens that the accumulated micro traumas that lead to degenerative disc disease and related symptoms (such as lower back pain) tend to build up later in life. This makes sense since the leading causes of degenerative disc disease are poor posture, lack of exercise, and not maintaining a healthy body weight.

These factors make it easy to understand why degenerative disc disease is typically found in the lumbar spine. As we perform day-to-day activities without proper form or mechanics, or when we lean forward in our chairs at work and create undue pressure on the lower spine, those discs are overused and eventually break down.

Why Does it Cause Lower Back Pain?

The discs in your spine are responsible for creating and maintaining the spaces between your vertebrae. This is important because your spine is a sort of super highway for your body’s nervous system. Both your central nervous system, which is responsible for all communication between your body and your brain, and your peripheral nervous system run through your spine. The peripheral nervous system consists of nerves that extend out from the spine into the rest of your body.

Young man with back pain, isolated in white

If your discs wear down, then the space between the vertebrae is reduced or subluxated, which results in pressure on the nerves in your lower back. This is what produces lumbago or lower back pain. The tricky thing with degenerative disc disease is that you might not feel pain until the disease has progressed to a point where there is pressure on the nerves. Though severe and extreme lower back pain may seem like the worst of it, it could actually be the least of your concerns.

Is it Just a Herniated or Bulging Disc?

degenerative-disc-diseaseWhile degenerative disc disease is characterized by the wearing down and ultimately thinning of the discs in the spine, bulging or herniated discs occur when there is pressure on the outer wall of the disc. Either by damage to the fibrous outer wall or annulus of the disc or injury to the nucleus of the disc, pressure is created on the outer wall.

A slipped or bulging disc is not the same as a herniated disc. When there is pressure on the outer wall of the disc, it is considered bulging or slipped. Once the pressure has become so great that the gel-like center or nucleus begins to protrude through the disc wall, then the disc is herniated.

When a bulging or herniated disc is not properly cared for and fully healed, it is likely that the disc will degenerate eventually. In this way, a bulging or herniated disc can cause degenerative disc disease. If someone has degenerative disc disease but has not had a herniated or bulging disc, there is a strong possibility that the worn down disc will bulge or herniate. Once the discs in your spine have worn down, they make you susceptible to a number of other spinal conditions.

What Are the Associated Risks?

Of course lower back pain is a major concern for most individuals who experience it, because pain limits your ability to perform daily activities and your overall mobility, not to mention it is extremely uncomfortable. It is important to maintain spinal health and take preventive
care and lifestyle measures to avoid a lifetime of cumulative spinal issues.

Spinal stenosis and osteoarthritis are the two conditions most likely to occur when someone has degenerative disc disease. Spinal stenosis occurs when the open spaces within the spine reduce, thereby putting pressure on the spinal cord. Not only is this painful, but it compromises your central nervous system’s ability to communicate with the rest of your body and puts you at risk for a number of other illnesses not thought to be related to spine health.

Osteoarthritis is also a likely companion to degenerative disc disease. When the discs in the spine thin, the vertebrae will eventually lose their stability. This can cause the bones to touch and cause damage to the joints. The body degenerativeresponds to this by ossification or the creation of bone spurs. These spurs will cause even more pain and decrease your mobility.

Prevention and Chiropractic Care

In caring for your degenerative disc disease or any spinal condition, chiropractors perform adjustments by applying a gentle, specific and precise force to the affected vertebrae. This relieves pressure on the nerves in the spine which reduces pain, promotes blood flow to the injured area, decreases muscle tension, increases range of motion, and allows the body to release endorphins (nature’s pain killers). Chiropractic care addresses the injury at the root and does so with a holistic approach to ensure complete healing and prevention of future issues.

The spine is an amazing thing, and when it is cared for it supports our overall health and ability to do the things we need and want in life. Because its role in our overall health is often underestimated, we tend to ignore the spine until we experience severe back pain. Luckily, chiropractic care and adjustments can reverse many spinal conditions and relieve the associated neck and back pain.

It is important to get “check-ups” on your spine with your chiropractor in the same way that you get check-ups with your medical doctor. Prevention is important—not only to keep minor misalignments in the spine from turning into major conditions and permanent loss of mobility, but to promote overall health and prevent other diseases.

Darren Hart

Dr. Darren R. Hart was born and raised in Atascadero and received his education at Atascadero High School, Cal Poly, and Palmer College of Chiropractic. He was inspired to become a chiropractor after a life-saving chiropractic adjustment as a young child. He has been practicing in Atascadero for nearly 20 years. Through his gentle healing touch, Dr. Hart enjoys giving back to others what chiropractic gave to him.