Fighting Degenerative Disc Disease at Any Age
Once thought to be an effect of the aging process, degenerative disc disease (DDD) continues to be diagnosed earlier in life. Most commonly, DDD results from a combination of poor lifestyle habits.
The painful effects of DDD can be lessened and eliminated through a multifactorial approach that increases the strength of core muscles and stabilizes the spine.
By understanding how DDD develops, a comprehensive plan can be implemented to combat, prevent and even reverse this painful condition in patients of all ages.
What is Degenerative Disc Disease?
In a nutshell, spinal discs serve three purposes: hold the spine together, allow for movement and absorb impact. If these discs become over-strained, they can bulge and rupture (herniate).[1. http://www.spineuniverse.com/conditions/degenerative-disc/degenerative-disc-disease-animation]
Even without herniating, though, simply stressing the spinal discs limits mobility and can suppress the immune system’s ability to fight the development of disease. The slightest misalignment of the spinal bones puts pressure on the spinal cord, which is responsible for communicating between the brain and tissues of the body (organs, muscles, ligaments, etc.). The resulting pressure can damage the function of any system or organ in the body, as well as cause tremendous pain.
This can make even the simplest everyday tasks difficult to perform.
DDD commonly develops when muscle tissue weakens and fails to provide the spine with the support needed to protect the spinal cord.
Desk jobs are another area of concern. Years (or decades) of slouching and hunching in front of a computercan lead to neglected, weakened muscle tissue meant to support the spine. If these muscles go unused for too long, the vertebrae can shift out of place and strain the spinal discs and nerves—kick-starting the development of DDD.
The most damaging effect of DDD is that it often presents no symptoms until the condition has become particularly severe.[2. http://www.spineuniverse.com/wellness/exercise/aging-exercise-what-you-need-know-stay-fit] Fortunately, DDD can often be overcome through a smart, multifaceted care plan.
Important, yet Misunderstood
The body’s “core” consists of the muscles of the lower back and abdominals. Whether playing hockey or carrying groceries, these muscles stabilize the body—making them a vital part of even the simplest daily activity.[3. http://mydoctor.kaiserpermanente.org/ncal/Images/Spine%20Lumbar%20Back%20Stabilization%20and%20Core%20Strengthening_tcm28-181048.pdf]
What many people do not realize, though, is that a strong core supports healthy spinal movement and alignment.
Strong abs and low back muscles work together to maintain the spine’s proper alignment. This is essential because, when the spine’s structure is compromised, the spinal cord struggles to communicate effectively with the organs and systems of the body.
Though a six-pack may be a nice bonus, it takes a backseat to spinal integrity in terms of functionality.
Think of a strong core like a cast for a broken arm. Once the bone is reset, a hard cast is set around the arm bone to ensure it remains in its proper position. This allows the arm to heal quickly and properly.
Without the cast, even a broken bone that is reset could not heal properly, simply due to the stresses of driving, typing and tending to children. Over time, this would result in a painful structural deficiency that may even limit mobility.
Similarly, a specific chiropractic adjustment improves the positioning of the vertebrae, but supplementary core exercises and good posture are needed to keep the spine in alignment.
When out of alignment (or subluxated), the spinal bones aggravate the surrounding nerves and tissue. This can disrupt basic organ function.
If this type of subluxation occurs, a number of symptoms may arise:
Many of these common signs are often overlooked as typical signs of aging. However, the most damaging symptom of all is actually the lack of symptoms.
Symptoms raise a red flag to signal dysfunction within the body. Conditions like DDD, though, can develop silently for years without producing any symptoms. Proactively evaluating the spine is the single most effective way to prevent the gradual worsening of DDD.
Take Action Today
While a strong core is helpful, it is not the antidote to DDD. If you’re looking to prevent or overcome DDD, then start working these three healthy habits into your daily life:
- Seek Specific Spinal Correction. Have your spine analyzed as soon as possible. Depending on your age, weight and lifestyle habits, your spinal discs may already be under a lot of pressure. Spinal correction can relieve this pressure and shift the spine into its proper position.
- Think Outside the Crunch. Crunches are outdated and easy to perform improperly. At best, they help only your abs; at worst, they strain your discs. Instead of crunching, try basic planks, side planks and working with a stability ball. Remember: A new exercise program must be approached with caution. Always work at your own pace.
- Bookend Stretching. Whether you’ve just crawled out of bed or you are about to hit the hay, take five to 10 minutes to stretch. Stretching improves flexibility, blood flow and loosens tight, aching muscles. Remember: Stretching should not be painful.[4. http://www.spineuniverse.com/wellness/exercise/aging-exercise-choose-safe-activities]
To get started, find the Maximized Living wellness doctor nearest you. Each of our doctors is certified to evaluate your spine and deliver the 5 Essentials of Maximized Living, a comprehensive system designed to improve all aspects of your health and fight the development of disease.
5 http://www.princeton.edu/uhs/pdfs/Lumbar.pdf — Used as background only