As we age, our spinal discs naturally degenerate due to the wear and tear of daily movement. Contrary to what the name suggests, degenerative disc disease isn’t a disease and instead, is just the name used to describe the natural, age-related disc degeneration that leads to back and neck pain.
If you have degenerative disc disease you may experience chronic back pain with occasional episodes of more intense pain. You may also feel weakness, tingling, numbness or pain that shoots into the arms or legs.
While degenerative disc disease isn’t curable or reversible, there are some things you will want to avoid to prevent painful flare-ups and slow its progression.
Living a Sedentary Lifestyle
Living a sedentary lifestyle, characterized by six or more hours of sitting or laying down and little to no exercise, can worsen disc degeneration. Think about ways you can incorporate more movement into your daily life. If you work a desk job, stand, stretch or walk for five to 15 minutes every hour throughout the day. Going for walks, playing with your dog or children and engaging in regular exercise are great ways to get some movement into your routine.
Regular, moderate exercise can also help strengthen your joints, bones and muscles, which can support a healthy spine. Don’t push yourself too hard – respect your body’s cues during exercise to avoid injury. Since obesity and being overweight accelerate degenerative disc disease and they correlate with a sedentary lifestyle, regular exercise (along with a healthy diet) can help you maintain a healthy weight.
Doing Certain Exercises
Regular exercise can help improve your pain and mitigate disc degeneration. However, there are certain exercises and activities you will want to steer clear of.
Anything that involves heavy lifting, high impact or twisting your back should be avoided if you have degenerative disc disease. All of the following types of exercises can put more stress and strain on your spinal discs which can exacerbate your pain or cause an injury:
- Lifting heavy weights
- Jump training (plyometrics)
- High-intensity interval training (HIIT)
- Contact sports
- Crunches and sit-ups
- Leg raises
- Bicep curls
Instead, opt for low-impact exercises like walking, yoga, pilates and stretching. A spinal specialist, like Citrus Spine Institute, can work with a physical therapist to provide more guidance on what exercises can help improve your symptoms and slow down disc degeneration.
Practicing Poor Posture
Slouching can worsen your pain and put stress and strain on your back, which can lead to further degeneration. You will want to practice good posture throughout the day as you sit and stand. If you work on a computer, an ergonomic desk setup is a worthwhile investment. Getting enough, good-quality sleep is important for managing degenerative disc disease, and practicing good sleep posture can help prevent flare-ups.
Consuming Inflammatory Foods
Research has found that inflammation can lead to and accelerate degenerative disc disease. There are many things that can cause inflammation in the body, but one of the biggest causes is the foods we eat. Certain foods and drinks that can increase inflammation include:
- Anything high in sugar, like desserts, pastries, sodas, ice cream, candy and more
- Highly processed foods, such as lunch meats and bacon
- Foods high in saturated fats, like lard and fatty cuts of meat
Smoking can also amplify your symptoms and quicken the pace of disc degeneration, as well as consuming more than the recommended amount of alcohol. Men are recommended to limit themselves to two drinks maximum per day, and women are recommended to have only one per day maximum. Speak with your doctor about what supplements and dietary modifications you can implement to support spinal health.
Find Relief from Degenerative Disc Disease with the Right Treatment
If you have degenerative disc disease and aren’t able to find relief from your pain, talking to a spinal specialist can help you get what you need to find relief.
Our team of compassionate spinal experts at Citrus Spine Institute specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of issues in all regions of the spine. We’re here to help you reclaim your quality of life from degenerative disc disease.