So you’ve been told that you have degenerative disc disease: what is it and what does this mean? This can be a frightening term to hear. You may think the 'spinal discs' are worn out and falling apart. To understand let’s talk a little more about what a disc is in regards to the spine.
What is a disc?
The intervertebral disc (IVD) is it is a circular shaped structure that sits between the spine segment above and below. To make the anatomy more relatable, imagine a jelly donut: the donut has a firm, doughy outside, while having a more liquid, fluid jelly center. The disc is very much like this: the outside is firm to keep the 'jelly' in place; the inside is very watery and fluid-like.
What is Degenerative Disc Disease(DDD)?
DDD is simply a wearing down of the discs similar to the arthritis we can develop in our knees and hips. As we get older, the inner gel part of the disc loses some of its ability to pull in water and as a result the disc wears down. The discs then lose some of their height and in some instances can lead to narrowing of the space for nerves of the spine resulting in stenosis, pain, and stiffness.
Is there anything I can do about degenerative disc disease?
In some instances, DDD can become a condition that results in stenosis and pain in the back. However, to some degree, a gradual wearing down of some of the tissue in our body is a normal process of aging, it simply reminds us that we’ve been alive on the planet for more than a few years. Just because there is some normal “wear and tear” on our joints or discs it does not mean that we are doomed and sentenced to the remainder of our lives being painful, decrepit, and bent over with pain.
Can physical therapy help?
Yes! So how do we combat this “disease”? With movement.
In order to stimulate our muscles, discs, joints, fascia (tissue that surrounds all of our joints and muscles) we must move. By engaging in regular movement, we create a stimulus to promote blood flow to muscles, movement of water which our discs need, and lubrication of the joint surfaces around the discs. This regular, intentional movement is what we need to kick-start the healing process.
A good physical therapy evaluation will look at all contributing factors to excessive stress and strain on the spine. From there a treatment plan is developed utilizing exercise, manual therapy, and body movement retraining to minimize bad stress, increase good stress(movement) to get you back on your feet and doing the things you love.