Is Degenerative Disc Disease Causing My Neck & Back Pain?
At the age of 42, after an MRI, I was diagnosed with Degenerative Disc 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. That was fear. Not fact.
What I now know and want to share with you is that degenerative disc disease may just be a normal part of aging, not a disease at all! “Consider the results of a major 2014 review by Brinjikji et al: signs of degeneration are present in very high percentages of healthy people with no problem at all. ‘Many imaging-based degenerative features are likely part of normal aging and unassociated with pain.*'”
The Bad News
Yes, your neck or back hurts and your doctor just told you that you have a condition with the word “degenerative” in it. You can’t even bend down to feed the cat in the morning because your back is so stiff and painful. Or maybe your problem isn’t so much having back pain, but 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
Remember: that MRI is not the whole story. In fact studies show that there is a low correlation between a scary MRI and low back pain. “Low back pain experts have long understood that you simply cannot reliably diagnose low back pain either with MRI, or with X-ray.”
Okay fine, you say, but you still have back pain, which is why you got the MRI in the first place. Here’s where the good news comes in. 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, especially at your computer, along the way.
The other good news is that this is a wake-up call while you’re still fairly young. Treatment might include gentle back and hip flexibility exercises using a gentle, healing breath to ease your body and mind. You might learn a few postural tips and appropriate core strengthening exercises. Later your treatment might include yoga back strengthening with other exercises to make your hips and legs stronger. You might find that not only do these exercises make your back feel better, you look better, too. And who doesn’t want that? With a stronger core, you might find you have more energy. (P.S. the core refers not only your belly muscles, but all of the muscles surrounding your pelvis – side hip muscles – glutei medii and minimi, the glutei maximii (your glutes), your pelvic floor and efficient, coordinated use of your breath with movement.) The strengthening usually comes after we’ve got a handle on your pain. (Beware treatments that load you up with weights for strengthening from the get go – I’ve had too many patients come to me after that kind of therapy. Their pain didn’t improve or sometimes it got worse.) Continue reading “Degenerative Disc Disease – Neck and Back Pain”