Degenerative Disc Disease

Let’s take a new approach to talk about Degenerative Disc Disease(DDD) and disc degeneration in general.  On this page we’re going to take a much more real-world approach and discuss degeneration in your neck, middle and lower back. .  We can talk all about the encyclopedic description but that doesn’t give us anything to work with.  How about we talk, briefly, about discs anatomy, how they work, and what degeneration to those tissues means for you and your life.

Is it a disease?

Unfortunately, the medical community will take the approach of name it, blame it, and taming it for many of the natural processes that we go through in life.  Degeneration can cause pain and be a reason you would visit our chiropractic office so we know that many of our patients are in pain because of DDD.  The big difference between DDD and natural degeneration is pain.  If you are having pain and limitation because of degeneration in the disc or spine then it is considered a disease process.

Why Does DDD hurt me?

In the patients that have DDD that is pain-producing, it is from a few common places.  First, when the disc degenerates there is less room in the surrounding tissues you may start developing pain that radiates into your arms or legs, you may develop sensory changes(think pins/needles or numbness), as the disc progresses over time you will notice more pain in a different range of motion and more limiting pain with your activity levels.  The discs in your spine provide a critical component to your natural range of motion and without them, you will notice less ability to move.

Chronic Pain

What are spinal discs made of?

We know that we said we wouldn’t get too textbook and we won’t’ but we need to cover a few basics.  First, the disc is made of an outer set of rings called the annulus fibrosis and an internal structure called the nucleus pulposis.  When you think about this picture or your spinal discs, imagine a car tire stuffed with chewing gum.  Your discs are very strong and quite durable.  Why do we have disc injuries then?   Great question!  Check out our Disc Injury page for more info on acute disc injury and radiating pain, lets chat here about the slow process of degeneration.

Where does Degenerative Disc Disease Come From?

The biggest and most common reason we have degenerative change is age.  Disc degeneration is like wrinkles and grey hair, it can’t be avoided but there are activities that can promote a slowing down of the process and activities that can make things much worse.  Did you know that the vast majority of degenerative disc changes have NO symptoms at all.  It is hard for a lot of people, doctors and therapists included, to hear a natural process called a disease and it is very important that if you are given the diagnosis of Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease that it isn’t always a disease and it more often than not will not affect your daily activity.

Why do some discs degenerate faster than others?

There are three reasons that discs degenerate more quickly than others in your body, inflammation, trauma, and activity.

Inflammation is a normal process in the body, but we tend to create more inflammation than our tissues can handle which leads to poor healing, tissue breakdown basically, and injury.  There are many reasons that your body may be inflamed but here are some of the most common reasons for inflammation.

  • Your Diet-processed foods, high sugar content, high saturated fats, low fiber, low antioxidants, low Vitamin D just to name a few.  The best part about dietary inflammation is that you can change it today and within a week you can make significant improvements.
  • Stress-this can be increased through physical stress, chemical stresses, and emotional stress.  You can imagine that this covers a huge spectrum of situations.  The hard part about stress is that it’s different for all of us.  Learning to manage your stress exposures can significantly reduce your inflammatory levels.

Trauma can come in multiple forms.  The big traumas, like a car accident, can injure a disc and the vertebrae surrounding leading to that tissue breaking down faster than the surrounding tissues.  The little traumas are much more common, poor posture and repetitive activities that stress and strain-specific regions of your spine.

Sedentary lifestyles are the biggest challenge for our current generation.  We are spending more time sitting to work, less time getting outside, and using our bodies and our bodies depend on activity to stay strong.  The old saying “use it or lose it”, is much truer than we realize.  All of our tissues respond to the activities we do.  Think about any new job or hobby that required new muscle use.  The first few weeks you were sore all over but then you could do it just fine.  When our lives include regular physical activity, exercise, and stretching we tell our body to maintain and grow, slowing down our degenerative changes.

Sedentary lifestyles trigger degeneration
Treating inflammation from stress

Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease, Thoracic Degenerative Disc Disease, and Lumbar Degenerative Disc Disease what is the difference?

Is there a difference?  The short answer, NO.  Cervical, Thoracic, and Lumbar degeneration are referencing specific anatomical regions.  Your cervical spine consists of 7 vertebrae that start under your skull and go to your upper back, your Thoracic vertebrae go from your upper back to just about where your ribs end and have 12 vertebrae, and your Lumbar spine consists of 5 vertebrae that go between your middle back and your tailbone.

Degeneration can occur in any of these areas and in multiple areas at the same time.

Can I prevent degenerative disc disease?

We can’t stop the aging process and we all degenerate as we go through life.  According to the American Journal of Neurology, up to 95% of degenerative disc disease is asymptomatic, which means most of us will never know we have it.   This is good news!  You don’t necessarily have to spend your life to avoid degeneration.

We would recommend a few things to keep the aging process as slow as possible.

  1. Eat a low inflammatory, low glycemic diet.  Plenty of fresh, whole food.  Avoid the packaged crap, fast food, sodas candy, and all the junk that you know you shouldn’t be eating.  Start considering long-term gains over short-term craving and reward.  If you don’t know what that kind of diet is like give us a call or look here for a little more information.
  2. Maintain a low BMI with as much muscle as possible.  This doesn’t mean you have to live in a gym or look like a bodybuilder but muscle mass is the single biggest marker for longevity and independence for us as we age.  Think of going to the gym like your retirement account.  The more you have retiring the better off you’ll be.
  3. Consistent bodywork is important.  You maintain your car, you maintain your house, you should maintain your body.  Regular spinal care by your chiropractor can keep your spine moving and your range of motion well maintained.  Don’t let aches and pains linger, any joint that loses mobility is prone to faster degeneration and arthritis.
  4. Supplement your diet with specific nutrition for joint health and inflammation.  Talk with your health care team about the anti-inflammatory benefits of fish oil for instance.  At Rising Sun we use Herbal Eze, Fish Oil, and CBD products to keep inflammation low and our bodies feeling great.

How can I treat Degenerative Disc Disease?

At Rising Sun we focus on the key components of good joint motion.  When you have been diagnosed with degenerative disc disease(DDD) and are in pain, chiropractic care is very successful at helping you feel better.  We use a combination of chiropractic adjustments, evaluations with the McKenzie Method for spinal mobility, home exercises to help strengthen surrounding tissue, laser therapy to reduce pain and improve healing and nutrition to help tissue repair and lower inflammation and pain.

There is no cure for the aging process but we can fight it and in most cases of pain that is from DDD you can reclaim your health, wellbeing and ability to do the things you love again.

1520 S. Minnesota Ave. St. Peter, MN 56082
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