Degenerative Disc Disease Exercises to Avoid

What are some degenerative disc disease exercises to avoid?

Degenerative disc disease (DDD) is a chronic debilitating condition which can have a serious impact on the quality of a person's life. Without proper care the condition can lead to difficulty walking, numbness in the legs and a lowering of self esteem. So, what are some degenerative disc disease exercises to avoid?

With proper care and therapy sufferers can ease some of the pain and return to full mobility.However, there are some exercises which can aggravate the condition and these are to be avoided at all costs.

What is degenerative disc disease?

Degenerative disc disease (DDD) is a common cause of lower back pain, while it may sound serious the name is a misnomer because it is neither a disease nor strictly degenerative. DDD is merely the degeneration of soft tissue that sits between the bones of the spine.

Degenerative generally means that symptoms will get worse over time, this is not strictly true with degenerative disc disease because the individual discs can repair themselves with therapy. While it is true that each disc will degenerate as the years pass, with proper exercise and an improved diet sufferers can help prevent further tissue loss and alleviate the problem.

Degenerative disc disease (DDD) symptoms

Degenerative disc disease causes lower back and neck pain, but that doesn't mean all back and neck pain is caused by DDD. Back pain can be caused by any number of conditions, including slipped discs, compression of nerve roots and most commonly, pulled muscles.

Typically sufferers of DDD will have some underlying chronic pain in the neck or lower back that flares up from time to time into a more severe episode. These more severe episodes last from a few hours to a few weeks and can be treated with painkillers.

Generally speaking sufferers of degenerative disc disease will suffer pain in the cervical spine (neck) or the lumbar spine (lower back) because these are the areas of the spine which are under the most pressure and are therefore the most susceptible to damage from degenerated discs.

Simple exercises that can help alleviate chronic back pain

Chronic back pain from degenerative disc disease cannot be alleviated completely, but with a few simple exercises you can control the spread of pain and reduce the frequency of more severe debilitating episodes which require a lengthy period of rest.

Exercise is the single most important way a person can reduce back pain, exercise increases blood flow and oxygen to the muscles, helping to keep them strong and repair themselves following damage. Regular exercise also improves your mental well being by releasing endorphins which help reduce pain and relieve stress.

Aerobic conditioning: Aerobic exercise is useful for rehabilitation and conditioning of the lower back muscles. It helps strengthen these muscles reducing the frequency of more severe episodes and helping to preserve the muscle that is left preventing further disc degeneration.

There are a couple of aerobic exercises which are suitable for people suffering from degenerative disc disease (DDD):

Walking: A good walk two or three times a week will make the world of difference. Walking is very easy on your back and it is an excellent aerobic exercise. You should aim to walk 2-3 miles, three days a week, this could be as simple as walking to the shops instead of using the car.

Cycling: Like walking, cycling is a very good aerobic exercise. You need to be careful what kind of cycling you do however. Try to find a nice flat road and don't be tempted to try mountain biking because this can aggravate your back muscles. If you live in a mountainous region you might be better off purchasing an exercise bike and using it to cycle a couple of miles once or twice a week in the comfort of your home.

Stretching: Start each day by doing 5 minutes of stretching exercises, these will help restore blood flow to your back muscles and significantly increase mobility. And don't neglect your hamstring, although it's not part of your back, stretching the hamstring muscle is proven to alleviate pain in the lower back.

Degenerative disc disease exercises to avoid

Generally speaking exercise is a good thing, but when you have degenerative disc disease there are some exercises and sports which can aggravate the condition. The following is a list of degenerative disc disease exercises to avoid:

Contact sports – Any sport that involves a blow from another opponent, deliberate or accidental, risks further damage to the discs in your back. Such sports include but are not limited to boxing, American football, basketball, baseball, soccer, polo and hockey. Avoid participating in any sport which involves contact at least until you have rebuilt your back strength and have approval from a doctor.

Golfing – While walking on a golf course is fine, a poorly aligned golf swing can cause excess muscle strain and ligament damage to even the healthiest of backs, so golf in general is a bad idea for sufferers of degenerative disc disease.

Weightlifting – Lifting weights compresses the spine and puts excess strain on your lower back. Even if done correctly, any sort of weightlifting risks aggravating your condition, leaving you in considerable pain. So forget about deadlifts, bench presses, pull-ups and dips, they are all bad news for sufferers of DDD.

Squats – With or without weights, squats cause excessive rotational forces on your lumbar spine which risks causing further damage to your back muscles and discs. Squat exercises should be avoided by anyone who suffers from lower back pain, regardless if they have an underlying condition or not.

Sit-ups – Any exercise that involves bending forward or twisting at the waist puts pressure on your back. Sit-ups are particularly bad because they push your spine against the floor and add pressure to your hip flexors - the big muscle that connects your thigh to the lower vertebrae. Hip flexors that are tight pull on the lower spine, creating lumbar spine discomfort for those who suffer from degenerative disc disease.

Last Reviewed:
August 15, 2017
Last Updated:
October 23, 2017
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