Degenerative disc disease (DDD) is a general term for progressive wear of the spongy discs that cushion the spine. Discs anywhere along the spine may become worn enough to produce distracting pain. However, the discs in the lower back and neck are usually affected since the mid-back is protected and stabilized by other structures. It’s not possible to prevent age-related degeneration of discs. However, it is possible to take steps to keep DDD from worsening over time.
Get Regular Exercise
Exercise won’t reverse wear and tear damage that’s already taken place. What it can do is strengthen muscles that support your spine to provide added stability, which may minimize pressure on nerves from worn spinal discs. Exercise increases circulation to your spine to help with the delivery of essential nutrients to tissues. The increased blood flow can also play a role in maintaining flexibility and mobility.
Chemicals called endorphins, which are naturally released while exercising, can reduce stress and anxiety. Endorphins also interact with opiate receptors in the brain and have an effect similar to what’s experienced with some pain medications. Types of exercise that may benefit your spinal discs include:
- Core strength training to target all muscle groups supporting your spine
- Water-based exercises that work the same muscles, but in a gentler way
- Cardio-based exercises such as brisk walking, biking, and swimming
Explore Physical Therapy
Forms of physical therapy other than exercise may also ease your discomfort from degenerative disc disease. A physical therapist will recommend techniques specific to your needs and type of pain. Common physical therapy modalities (methods) for DDD include:
- Hot and cold therapy
- Deep tissue massage
- Spinal traction to ease muscle tightness and nerve compression
Drink Plenty of Water
The discs that support your spine are often referred to as being “spongy” for a reason. Spinal discs naturally compress from daily movements, which depletes moisture within discs. Strive for at least 8 glasses of water daily to keep your discs sufficiently hydrated.
Consider Epidural Injections
Combining a local anesthetic with a type of steroid medication, epidural injections are placed into the space outside of the membrane that protects the spinal cord. Injections won’t treat the source of your disc-related pain. However, you may experience enough relief to benefit from exercise and other forms of physical therapy.
Make Healthy Meal Choices
The foods you eat affect how tissues around your spinal discs react. For instance, sugary snacks and fried foods contribute to tissue swelling, which may make disc pain worse. Extra body weight can also place extra pressure on discs. Maintain a healthy weight and diet by opting for foods that contain beneficial nutrients and naturally ease inflammation. Try these foods:
- Green, leafy veggies like spinach, lettuce, kale, and collard and turnip greens
- Berries, tomatoes, and unsalted nuts
- Lean meats and fish
- Low-fat dairy products
- Beans, eggs, soy foods, and other healthy sources of protein
Santa Monica spine surgeons claim surgery is rarely necessary for people with degenerative disc disease. However, there are minimally invasive procedures that can correct damage to discs that may become herniated or dislodged enough to irritate nerves. DDD is unique because patients sometimes reach a point where discomfort levels off or goes away entirely. This usually happens after the age of 60 when worn discs stabilize.
If you have DDD or another spinal condition and think you might need surgery, get in touch with The Spine Institute. We specialize in a wide array of procedures, from traditional fusion to vertebroplasty surgery. Santa Monica residents can trust in Dr. Hyun Bae to diagnose the source of their pain and help them find the relief they need. Call 310-828-7757 today and take the first steps toward living a pain-free life.