Degenerative disc disease can cause a multitude of issues in the spine over the years. People who suffer from this condition may find: Their mobility and flexibility restricted; aches and pains localized to the spinal area; and radiating pain, weakness, and numbness to the limbs. Luckily, there are exercises to help stretch the disc spaces and alleviate pressure on the nerves.
These exercises should always be done after consulting with your chiropractor. Your chiropractor will know how to target the area of degenerative disc disease without stretching the area too much and making the pain worse. When done correctly, these exercises can help to improve your flexibility and mobility, lessen your pain, and even stop the progression of the disease.
What is degenerative disc disease?
Degenerative disc disease is a narrowing of the space between the vertebrae of the spine, also known as the discs. The vertebrae are protected from knocking or rubbing into each other as we move by jelly-like discs which allow us to bend, twist, and turn. The spinal cord runs down into the vertebrae and the nerves connected to the spinal cord come out between these spaces and control our limbs, internal organs, and essential functions.
When this disc space becomes herniated, slipped, or essentially squished between the vertebrae, the nerves are compromised and can be pinched or damaged. This causes localized pain as the nearby muscles are receiving distress signals from the nerves. As the disease worsens, that nerve can become so pinched that it causes weakness, numbness, tingling, and pain down into your hands and feet. It can also cause internal organs to stop functioning as well as they should.
What causes degenerative disc disease?
Most people experience some degenerative disc disease as they age. The vertebrae, after so many years of use combined with issues such as osteoporosis and osteoarthritis, cause a narrowing of the disc space between the vertebrae. The vertebrae can rub together and cause painful bone spurs or begin to press down on the nerves.
Other risk factors for degenerative disc disease can happen in young people, too. These factors include:
- Undiagnosed or untreated scoliosis
- Sports injuries
- Occupational hazards, including heavy physical labor or desk work
- Hereditary hazards
Exercises to help maintain or improve degenerative disc disease
Degenerative changes in the spine can be improved with gentle stretching and strength-building through upper and lower back pain exercises. The stronger you make the muscles that surround your spine, the better they can support your spine and keep it aligned, especially after adjustments with your chiropractor.
Yoga can make a world of difference for people suffering from all kinds of ailments. With proper practice and form, even veterans have found themselves free of knee and hip pain, back pain, and neck pain caused by injuries sustained through training and wartime.
Yoga promotes the strengthening of your core, which helps support the muscles in your spine. It also focuses on improving your flexibility, which can sometimes limited after damage from degenerative disc disease, and it stretches the spine, which relieves pressure on the nerves. Deep breathing exercises help increase blood flow and oxygen to injuries in the spine, which promotes healing and tissue regeneration. Stretching also helps elongate the hamstrings which, when too tight, can pull on the lower back.
It is essential to consult with your chiropractor before attempting any yoga poses or stretches. Some stretches can be too intense or target a herniated disc in the wrong way, which can cause further injury. Performed correctly, yoga can be immensely beneficial to your spinal health and overall health.
2.) Swimming and water aerobics
In the acute stages of an injury caused by degenerative disc disease, it may be too painful to approach exercise traditionally. If you are experiencing leg weakness, or sciatica, from your injury, you may not trust your legs to support you as you work your way through an exercise circuit. Swimming and water aerobics are an excellent, low-impact alternative which takes the pressure off your joints and still lets you get in plenty of cardio.
Water aerobics can help you strengthen your core, which will strengthen the muscles around your spine. Swimming slowly allows you to move your legs and hips gently, which builds up flexibility and mobility after a disc injury.
Never underestimate the power of walking when you have degenerative disc disease. Cardio stimulates oxygen and blood flow to muscles and nerves that have been damaged by disc herniation, slippage, or narrowing. Walking also helps with flexibility and mobility.
Sometimes, the pain and stiffness from degenerative disc disease can be tempting to endure from a chair or bed, but this makes things worse. By walking, you are increasing blood flow and getting your muscles moving around your spine, which will loosen your joints and help you feel much better.
Light stretching in the hamstrings and psoas major can help improve flexibility and mobility in the lower spine. Leg stretches, such as knee-to-chest pulls before getting out of bed in the morning can also get the blood moving and warm the muscles up, decreasing the likelihood of stiffness or pain once you get up and moving. Slow, gentle yoga poses such as the cow or cat stretch can be done at home or work and help to align the spine and stretch out disc space.