‘But I’ve been told my back is degenerative and I have degenerative disc disease– its only going to get worse, right?’
The amount of times that I have heard this from a client or from someone that I know is crazy. Someone has told them their back is out, or they have the worst scan they have seen – they must be in a lot of pain, right?
I had someone tell me they had degenerative disc disease and were told that eventually all of their discs would go the same way – really? When they were originally told this information they had had an acute back injury, were in excruitiating amounts of pain and right there we have already created a fear of injury without even realising. They were under the impression that a number more times in their life they would go through the same cycle – they were told to stop exercising to stop the degeneration. No wonder there is so much misconception out there.
In most cases this is definitely not as bad as what people are being told. YES – as we get older our bones and joints do have wear and tear, YES – this is a form of degeneration. Is this a disease? Well as far as I know aging isn’t a disease – so NO. There is a lot of hype around these ‘labels’ that are being given to different states of being that may create more hype than is actually required. A disc that is injured is more likely to receive more wear and tear but this doesn’t necessarily mean that you will have pain and a limited life because of it.
So what actually is degenerative disc disease? You’ve got it – it’s when your discs loose their height and shock absorption as you age and become slightly narrower and thinner – therefore they degenerate. This can be associated with small cracks in the outer part of the disc which can cause further damage to the inner part of the disc – the annulus.
If an acute back injury occurs with some damage to the disc this can kick start the aging process a bit quicker than most, but it does not mean that there is going to be a disabled invalid at the end of it.
Do you always get pain from a degenerative disc? NO – a large proportion of the population walk around with degeneration in their spine without any pain whatsoever. The pain can occur when there is narrowing of the foramen (the holes the nerves come out of) and cause irritation or compression of the nerves.
The best thing that we can all do for our backs is stay active, stay strong and look after ourselves. All of our current lifestyle diseases impact on the aging process and can cause a quicker progression of these age related changes. If you do have low back pain – it may or may not be a disc, but my advice is go and get it assessed to see what can be done to help and keep you healthy in the future.