At the age of 42, after an MRI, I was diagnosed with Degenerative Disk Disease. I also had two bulging and one herniated disk. I went home, crawled into bed and cried, convinced that my body was aging beyond repair, and it would be all downhill from there.
The Bad News
Yes, your neck or back hurts and you have a condition with the word “degenerative” in it. You can’t even bend down to feed the cat without pain. But, maybe you don’t have any back pain, rather your foot is numb. Or you have pain, numbness or tingling in your buttocks, knee or calf. It’s been going on longer than you care to admit and nothing seems to make it better.
The Good News
Yes, believe it or not, there is good news. You can get better. More likely than not, you can return to a completely pain-free life. With the right treatment and a few targeted exercises, you can restore flexibility to your spine and become stronger than you’ve ever been. You will probably need to learn a few postural adaptations along the way.
The other good news is that this is a wake-up call while you are still fairly young. Once you learn new postural patterns, you will sit, stand and walk taller. With the appropriate Core strengthening exercises, you might find that not only do they make your back feel better, you look better, too. Another plus is that with a stronger Core, you might find you have more energy.
Who Can Help?
A Physical Therapist with skills in McKenzie’s Techniques, Manual Mobilizations, Neural Glides, Yoga, Feldenkrais, Alexander or Pilates can help you. A Physical Therapist who has healed from her own back pain, and there are many of us out there, has a unique perspective.
Don’t try to go it alone. Certain things that well-meaning friends or teachers think might help — like forward bends and intensive hamstring stretching — may make the situation much worse. I would avoid twisting exercises until you know more about what’s going on in there. Backward bends, like sphinx and cobra poses help many people but make others worse. It might be best to avoid abdominal crunches or other heavy-duty abdominal exercises at first. There are many wonderful and effective Core strengtheners that involve little to no spinal flexion.