Degenerative Disc Disease the Runner’s Angle

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Injuries and assorted aliments are what every runner, regardless of ability must deal with. We wear certain sneakers, braces and other body supports to help alleviate the concerns of many injuries.  There are some ailments that have more to do with the calendar than what you wear on your feet for support.

Degenerative disc disease is a natural aging process that can affect mobility and motility, including physical activity.It does not matter who you are or how well you are in (or not so much) in shape, your body will age and show signs of some breakdown.  It is important to understand the biology and the science behind something such as degenerative disc disease. This article will help layout the issues surrounding it and ways to curb its onset. And, it should inform you that even though degenerative disc disease sounds like a scary diagnosis, it is a common problem and not one to overly worry about it. Since there is a relation with degenerative joint disease, this article will also mention that topic throu

As a runner, it is important to understand the natural progression of degenerative joint disease, the symptoms to look out for, and the preventative measures one can take to slow the degenerative process that comes with getting older. The spine holds much of our weight, especially upper body weight, and takes the impact and pressure that is exerted on it from everyday activities like running. Especially with running, the repetitive impact from landing foot to floor with every stride can create an additive, compressive effect on the spine.

All those miles your run to get in shape, improve your body’s appearance and cardiovascular performance, comes at a price. The toll being what happens to your back after so many feet have pounded into the ground and then sent reverberations throughout the body.

One recent research study stated that even though Degenerative disk disease is predominately a genetic issue, athletes have an increased chance of dealing with it because of the amount load they place on their back. Another report suggested that aggressive and regular sporting activities can become a factor in earlier than normal onset of  degenerative disc disease.

While there is no cure for degenerative disc disease, there are methods one can undertake to prevent accelerated erosion of the disc tissue. This post will help guide you on the steps you may want to consider to take preventative measures to protect your spine from degenerative joint disease. While no cure exists, there are methods including proper exercise and a good diet that can help strengthen the muscles around the spine for added support. This additional support helps dissipate the impact and load stressed on the spine that can lead to degenerative joint disease. Don’t stop running, lifting or working out in general, just be aware that there are reactions to all your actions. Yes, running is a great action, so we want this article to help you better prepare for the reactions.

What is Degenerative Disc Disease?

Many runners may not know this but, Degenerative disc disease is actually not a disease but a conventional term used to describe changes in spinal discs during the natural aging process. The spine is comprised of a series of interlocking bones called vertebrae separated by the cartilage discs that absorb shock exerted on the spine and allow it to twist, bend, and flex. Degenerative disc disease usually originates in the lower back (also known as the lumbar region) and the neck (also known as the cervical region) and can manifest throughout the spine.

Lower back pain is also called lumbago, which is another term for degenerative disc disease.

A healthy inter vertebral disc is largely made up of water which gives it the spongy like qualities to act as the mid-body’s shock absorbents. Once the disc becomes damaged it looses its water and becomes rigid, not flexible or spongy. That means there is less shock and movements it can absorb. Therefore the back pain becomes prevalent.

To help visualize the onset of this, the dried out discs lose volume, diameter and height. The spine then can shrink in length. This is why you always say your grandmother is shrinking, because yes she really is.

Most people exhibit signs of wear and tear as they age, with almost everyone over 60 showing clear indication of degenerative disc disease with confirmation from an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). Additionally, degenerative disc disease can be present in our bones without feeling any pain. Sometimes the cartilage discs can wear down completely so that bone is rubbing on bone and cause the stiffness that is associated with osteoarthritis.

Some people have been diagnosed with Degenerative disc disease in their teens and 20s so realize it can impact many people at different times but it is commonly felt later in life. One study pegged the percentage of 30% as those between 30 to 50 years of age who will feel the complications of degenerative disc disease.

When the cartilage discs separating vertebrae change due to age, multiple types of degenerative joint diseases in addition to degenerative disc disease can develop. Some of those include neck pain, back pain, spinal stenosis, herniated disc disease, osteoarthritis, and others. If you experience any pain your neck, back, or joint areas, it’s important to see your doctor as these conditions could be putting pressure on nerves and the spinal cord. Nerve function may be affected if left untreated.

Understanding the Spine and Vertebrae

Runners and athletes don’t need to have an advanced medical degree or expertise in kinesiology, but the more you know about the body can only help during the aging process. Knowing more about an important section of the body such as the spine will be beneficial during training sessions and any conversations you have with doctors in the future. We often hear about the vertebrae and something like L2, but what does it really mean?

The spinal canal is divided into multiple sections that become compartmentalized as the vertebrae. The vertebrae are grouped as sections from the neck down to the tailbone. The composition of the spinal canal is:

  • 7  cervical vertebrae in the neck region
  • 12 thoracic vertebrae in the chest region
  • 5 lumbar vertebrae in the lower back region
  • 5 sacral vertebrae in the pelvis region
  • 4 coccygeal vertebrae in the tailbone region

In sum, there are 33 interlocking bones which make up the vertebrae. The first letter and number of the vertebrae are how medical professionals differentiate these sections. For example, C6 would be the sixth vertebrae in the cervical (neck) section, the L3 would be the third vertebrae in the lumbar (lower back) section, etc.

Understanding this terminology will make you an informed patient if and when you need to consult a doctor regarding spine or disc issues. And if you are an active runner, expect that conversation to happen.

Specific Sections of the Spine and Disc Disease

Lumbar disc disease is extremely common and usually takes place within L4 and S1. Cervical disc disease is also an issue many of us will deal with – this takes place low to mid section of the neck. If you have played football, it is likely this is something you will encounter. Thoracic disc disease is common but not as the aforementioned conditions.

Symptoms

The most common symptom of any degenerative joint disease like degenerative disc disease is pain, irritation and lack of mobility. While symptoms vary from person to person, these disease can cause pain in the back and/or neck and hinder one’s general fluidity of daily movements. The source of the pain can depend on the location of the facet joint degeneration.

Facet joints are what connect the bones of the spine together throughout the spinal column. These joints are vital since they allow the spine to move in twisting and bending movements. The movement of facet joints are facilitated by cartilage (same as the knee).

That is why the pain associated with Degenerative disc disease relies so much on the fact joints. For example, facet joint degeneration in the upper part of the neck may lead to neck pain or arm pain while facet joint degeneration in the lower back may lead to pain in the lower back or legs. Movements such as twisting, reaching, or bending over may aggravate the pain. Other times, pain from degenerative disc disease may begin after an injury, big (like a car accident), small (like a fall), or with normal everyday movements like bending over to pick something up from the floor. At times, the pain may start for no obvious reason and some may not have any pain at all but still present with clear signs of joint degeneration. Tingling and/or numbness in the extremities (legs or arms) have also been associated with degenerative disc disease.

As it relates to the feet, those suffering from degenerative disc disease will often have trouble with a foot drop – or the lack of ability to raise the foot to the ankle.

An expanded list of symptoms for degenerative joint disease include:

  • Pain in any facet joint area that may range from annoying to debilitating. This could be pain that starts as an ache or continues as an ache–it does not cause you to wince in pain but it is definitely noticeable. Think of a discomfort that doesn’t limit your activities but you are aware of its presence. Many people will also come in and out of awareness of light or annoying facet joint pain throughout the day. If you notice that a certain area of your body, especially around a facet joint is achy multiple times during the daytime, you may be experiencing degenerative joint disease. Conversely, facet joint pain can be extremely painful and even debilitating. A debilitating pain is one that prevents you from going about your daily activities in a normal fashion. It requires special attention and adjustments like lying down, adjusting sitting or lying position, the need to ice or apply a warm compress, consume pain reducers and other activities. Debilitating facet joint pain may also require medication to alleviate the pain. If you experience any type of pain, whether soft or severe, it is best to seek advice from your doctor. For a runner, this takes miles off your run or could possibly put you on the shelf more than you want.
  • Pain in the lower back, thighs, and buttocks. This type of pain may start in one area of the lower back to the thighs and spread in the general area. It is unusual to associate pain in muscle heavy parts of the body like the buttocks and thighs, with a facet joint disease, however if you are experiencing pain in these areas in combination with pain in the lower back, it would be worthwhile seeing your doctor as soon as possible. This is also an area that tends to receive a lot of stress due to daily activities and exercise (especially running on a track or hard surface), and therefore could be hurting for a number of reasons. While some can distinguish between muscle pain and joint pain, it can sometimes be difficult to understand where the pain is originating. Both muscle and joint pain can make it difficult to remain mobile and fluid with movements.
  • Pain originating in the neck and may expand to arms and hands. Similarly with lower back pain, any joint facet pain in the arms and hands combined with pain in the neck area should be assessed right away by your medical professional to rule out degenerative disc disease or identify it early enough for preventative treatment. The neck area is a common site for herniated disks, muscle tension in the neck and shoulders, strained muscles, and pinched nerves. It is therefore then also difficult to discern the origin of pain, if it is coming from degenerative disc disease or from another source. Pinched nerves in the back and neck can often manifest themselves to create pain and discomfort like it would for Degenerative disc disease.
  • Pain when lifting, twisting, or reaching. This is a type of joint facet pain that may be more difficult to discern as degenerative disc disease or degenerative joint disease due to the everyday nature of these movements. Lifting a child or a box, twisting in your chair to chat with an office mate, or reaching for a vase in a high cupboard are all actions that may trigger facet joint pain due to degenerative joint disease. It is hard to limit these types of activities throughout the day and even when pain occurs, it could be associated with a muscle injury or other type of injury. Degenerative joint disease is also commonly refereed to as osteoarthritis. Once again another aspect of the body growing old. Just because you are a runner, by no means are you immune to degenerative joint disease.
  • Pain that increases or starts with prolonged sitting. Even less identifiable than pain caused by lifting, twisting, or reaching is pain associated with sitting. Most of us spend a good portion of the day sitting at a desk which puts a great amount of pressure on the back. Someone with degenerative joint disease may lack the cushioning needed to dissipate the compressive pressure that comes with sitting in a chair. If you are someone that is sedentary most of the day (e.g. sitting at a desk at work, sitting at a ticketing booth, sitting on the couch, a professional driver, etc.) and you suspect or know that you have degenerative joint disease, try alternating every 30 minutes between standing and sitting. Adjustable desks are available online or at office supply stores to help make this possible. For someone like a truck driver who sits all day and does not have the option of a standing desk, there are ways to alleviate pain when sitting. Those include making sure you are not sitting on your wallet, seat movements every 30 minutes, and getting out of the car or truck at rest stops and do some quick but brisk stretching.
  • Pain that dissipates when lying flat. Since our spine curves slightly, lying down and flat on our backs can be uncomfortable and even painful if certain pressure points are not supported. If you fit this description, try switching your mattress and/or using body pillows to adjust support. Mattress retailers could be good sources of information on how to make your night’s sleep more comfortable or advice from a spine specialist. There are also a number of retailers offering therapeutic pillows that can help spine and neck pain. Of course this new breed of pillows does not come cheap. You might see some commercials that offer deals and flexible return options, but you should really try the pillow before you purchase it. So, make it a point to head to a retailer such as Bed Bath & Beyond that enables customers to get a true feel and touch of the pillow prior to any purchase.
  • Any numbness in the arms, legs, hands, or feet. If you experience any of these symptoms in your extremities, you should see your doctor right away. Numbness could be an indication of a pinched nerve, restricted blood flow or other cardio pulmonary issues that may or may not be caused by degenerative disc disease. For this reason, it is critical to seek medical attention to identify and treat the source causing the numbness. Sticking to the theme that running does not prevent all ailments, this is something you must have looked at, even if you are reaching your running maximum.

Lack of Symptoms?

There are a number of patients who even though they deal with degenerative disc disease, they show very little in terms of pain and other symptoms. Essentially their symptoms are just that of growing old.

Causes

Degenerative disc disease occurs in almost everyone over 60 years of age. The older we get, the more our cushioning between vertebrae and joints disintegrate or degenerate resulting in pain, reduced motility, and other disabilities.

Over time, our spines endure more pressure and the space between vertebrae can shrink because there is less padding which can result in greater instability. In reaction to this process, our bodies start growing osteophytes which bony growths or bone spurs. Bone spurs or osteophytes, are smooth bone growths created on top of normal bone. They tend to form in the spine, shoulders, hands, hips, knees, and feet. They form when the body attempts to repair itself and grow new bone. Naturally, you can see how they might form in degenerative joint disease and other types of bone injury. Repetitive stresses on bone like rubbing, pressure, or stress can also activate bone spurs to grow–it is the body’s attempt at strengthening bone in areas that are receiving consistent stress. The bone is essentially trying to make a weaker area, stronger.

While most tissues in the body have access to adequate blood flow, the disc does not and so when it is injured, it is unlikely that it will repair itself. So you can imagine that with repetitive injury or changes to the disc structure, the combination of those aggravations can contribute to the disc degeneration which we call degenerative disc disease or degenerative joint disease.

Some of those changes in spine structure due to age are:

  1. Loss of fluid in vertebral discs or the drying out of the disc. When fluid volume in the cushioning between our discs is lost, there is less room for shock absorption and results in reduced flexibility. Loosing fluid also makes the discs narrower which reduces the amount of space between the bony vertebrae–this could result in bone on bone pressure that can be very painful.
  2. As we age, we can incur small cracks in the annulus or capsule of the disc. These are tears in the outer layer of the discs that separate our vertebrae. Inside these discs are jelly-like material called the nucleus that can ooze through the small tears in the capsule and can cause the disc to bulge, break open, or break into pieces.
  3. Inflammation in the lumbar region can disrupt the larger nerves that connect the back, pelvis and legs.

For the most part, these changes in spinal structure occur more in people who do heavy physical labor like delivery men and women or movers, and in people who smoke cigarettes. Additionally, people who are overweight or obese may also be more susceptible to degenerative disc disease and may present with more symptoms and earlier in life.

As if you need another reminder of the problems associated with smoking. The chemicals inside both cigarettes and cigars help speed up the drying process inside the spinal discs. This is turn leads to the chances of acquiring arthritic conditions.  Also related is the connection between smoking and ischemia – back pain that results from reduced oxygenation of cells within the body. The same dangers are abundant for drug use.

If you are a runner, you are likely not a smoker, but if you have family members who do smoke, let them know about yet another negative side effect.

Degenerative disc disease can also start after an acute fall, which is a sudden fall. The fall may cause a herniated disc to present that begin the degeneration process. These discs are like have a tough outer layer and a softer, fluid filled layer like a jelly donut. A herniated disc occurs when that fluid center pushes out through a crack or tear in the tougher exterior part. Herniated discs can cause irritations in surrounding nerves and cause pain including numbness and weakness in the arms and legs. Depending on the severity of the rupture, surgery may be needed. Most cases of herniated discs however, can be treated with non-surgical methods.

Risk Factors

When it comes to degenerative disc disease, the most common risk factor is age and general wear and tear on the body. However, other risk factors exist that can speed up the onset of degenerative disc disease that you should know include:

  1. Genetics: Genes play a big role in how degenerative disc disease manifests in a person. Usually, a family history of degenerative joint disease (meaning someone in your family has had the disease) increases your chances of developing the disease. Medical researchers continue to find genitive links with osteoarthritis.
  2. Obesity and Malnutrition: Much of a person’s weight is supported by the spine. The more the spine is compressed with heavier weight over time, the more the vertebrae are compressed and the more pressure is put on the joint facet and therefore the vertebral discs. Extra stress on the joints due to excess weight increases the chance of small tears and cracks developing in the outer layer of the vertebral discs. Of course obesity also limits physical activity and blood flow throughout the body.
  3. Injuries: Heavy impact from a collision or fall can cause injury to the spine. If the impact (falls and physical trauma) is significant, it could also cause tears and cracks to develop in the vertebral discs and contribute to the development of degenerative disc disease. As mentioned, repair to this area of the spine does not often occur, so repair or regeneration to the discs most often does not happen. Police and fire officers, construction workers, and warehouse employees can easily injure themselves and their backs and spines while on duty.
  4. Overuse: Any repetitive or consistent activity that requires heavy lifting, excessive twisting, reaching, or sustaining great impact can place great stress on the joints. This stress can be damaging to the vertebrae and to the vertebral discs–they can cause degeneration disc disease by creating tears to the soft tissue. Runners are especially prone to dealing with overuse and resulting injuries.
  5. Gender: When it comes to degenerative disc disease, women tend to develop the disease more than men. It is imperative therefore, especially in for older women, that they mind the stress imposed on their back and spine.

Diagnosis

If you or your doctor suspects degenerative disc disease, it can be diagnosed by a medical professional by assessing your medical history and with a physical exam of the spine. During the assessment, the doctor will ask questions about symptoms, if there were any notable injuries or illnesses that might cause disc damage, previous treatment to the spine or joints, and any activities, repetitive or not, that could cause pain in suspect areas like the neck, legs, back, and/or buttocks.  The physical exam might include:

  • A check of the range of motion of the area of concern and any pain associated with that range of motion.
  • A check of posture.
  • A check for nerve damage in areas that are tender or painful. The physician will check for signs of numbness, weakness, tingling, or abnormalities in reflexes.
  • A physician may also check for fractures, infections, or tumors that could be underlying conditions causing pain.
  • A physician can then proceed with a diagnosis with a urine and/or a blood test to look for other causes of pain.

Imaging tests like x-rays or an MRI may not be necessary as they are not likely to help with the diagnosis. They may be useful to diagnose if you have experienced an isolated injury or if there your doctor thinks there may be some sort of nerve damage causing the pain. X-rays are valuable for medical professionals so they can best identify arthritis,  fractures, bone spurs and if the disco space shows signs of narrowing.

MRIs are best used on the spinal area to look for herniated or bulging discs and compressed nerves. Computed Tomography (CT) Scan could also be used to look at overall bone structures.

Additionally, if you have ever had any conditions such as bone disease, tumors, or infections, your doctor may ask you about that history in order to rule out any other spine issues. In total, the diagnosis could involve a combination of your medical history, a description of your symptoms, a physical examination, and possibly an x-ray or MRI.

A discography can be utilized if no diagnosis based on medical history can be obtained. This is done by injecting dye into the area of the spine causing pain. The dye will help provide medical professionals with a clearer image to examine.  Or, a neurophysiologic test (EMG/NCV) could be conducted to better identify any nerve damage caused by a problem disc.  A lesser used diagnostic option in this case is a bone scan.

Treatment

The first step for those who encounter the symptoms of degenerative disc disease, is a modification of activity and physical behaviors. That might mean less running or doing so on a softer surface. The local high school rubberized track should be your destination, not the pavement. Also, look to include walking and less running into your workout regime. You likely will need to eliminate weight lifting as well. That activity taxes the bones and joints.

Other sporting activities that require rotation and exertion on the back will likely need to be reduced or eliminated. Sure golf sounds like a great sport to grow old with, but it puts your back under constant strain. The same with basketball even if you are only playing for a short period of time. Now is the time to make sure your gym provides classes in yoga and Pilates.

For treatment of pain associated with degenerative disc disease, apply and ice pack or heat as needed. Alternatively, you may want to alter between the ice pack and heating pad or compress for pain alleviation. Along with cold and hot treatment, take a pain reducer as instructed on the label or as guided by a physician, such as acetaminophen (e.g. Tylenol), ibuprofen (e.g. Advil), naproxen (e.g. Aleve), or another nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to further help with the pain. If the pain is severe, your doctor may be able to prescribe a stronger anti-inflammatory to treat the affected area.

A type of medication called nerve blocks may be used to treat severe pain and manage it. In our body, exists a cluster of nerves (called a plexus or ganglion), that are responsible for pain to a certain organ or body region. Nerve blocks are a nerve-numbing agents that target these ganglions to block pain.

Conditions like osteoarthritis, a herniated disc, or spinal stenosis may require additional types of treatment. Such treatments include strengthening exercises, physical therapy, and surgery. Surgery may be recommended and involves removing the damaged disc and is either replaced with an artificial disc or the remaining vertebrae and fused together to protect the spinal cord. For degenerative disc disease, doctors contemplate the surgical option if after sixth months of therapy and non-surgical options don’t bring about an end to the pain.

One report stated that 80% of adults will experience back pain, but only 1% to 2% will need ever need lumbar spine surgery to deal with the pain. As our society ages there are more patients going to see a wide array of medical professionals regarding back pain and degenerative disc disease, so make it a priority to seek out as many opinions as possible. You should be very leery of a doctor who immediately recommends a surgical option. For anybody regardless of their age, an operation on the back and neck needs to be the last resort.

Irrelevant of the source, pain due to degenerative disc disease, can be managed with exercise to improve muscle strength and flexibility around the spine. Strengthening the muscles that surround the spine is important in order to support the spine. Furthermore, exercising the back muscles increases blood flow to spinal area which supplies oxygen and nutrients to joints and muscles while removing cellular waste products that can cause inflammation.

Hamstring stretches are also important for the back. Elongating the hamstring muscles will reduce the stress placed on the lower back (lumbar region). Hamstring stretches should be the focal point of any runner’s pre and post run routines.

Other important stretches for the alleviation of pain in the back include a Pelvic Tilt. For this exercise, start on the ground with the back to the ground in a laying position, knees bent and the feet flat on the floor. From there tighten your core and stomach muscles and pull towards the floor for a count of at least 10. This needs to be done for multiple sets.

Doing a bridge on an exercise ball is also useful to work on core and back strength.


reverse bridge on an exercise ball

To recap, options for treatment that accompany physical activity and exercise are:

  • Medication (anti-inflammatory drugs like acetaminophen, ibuprofen, naproxen, etc.)
  • Surgery–disc replacement or spinal fusion
  • Physical therapy
  • Heat and cold therapy
  • Spinal mobilization

 

The case of Kent Graham

The former NFL quarterback is one of the multitude of professional football players who has dealt with Degenerative disc disease. He is now outspoken on his case and treatment. After spending more than 10 years in the NFL, Graham dealt with sever back pain that limited his quality of life after retiring in 2002. His Degenerative disc disease was never fully and properly diagnosed so team doctors often treated his pain as muscle spasms (heat & cold packs along with anti inflammatory medications).

After having trouble playing with his kids and walking up and down stairs, Graham met with a doctor to discuss surgical options to help his pain. Graham had spinal fusion where the degenerative discs are removed and then having that space replaced by fusing the vertebrae on both sides together. A bone graft is also used in this space to help jump start bone growth where the surgical fusion took place.

After a difficult recovery process, Graham was able to recover his quality of life where he is an active runner and golfer. Now Graham is an advocate for spinal fusion surgery for Degenerative disc disease. Still, there are some doctors leery of this type of surgery. However for those suffering like Graham was, it is now a common option.

Athletes Careers Cut Short because of Back Issues

This list is a long one and contains all stars and Hall of Famers from all the major sports. In hockey there was Mike Bossy. In football, Troy Aikman  left the field early because of his back. The same is true for MLB all-star Vladimir Guerrero.

An article by the Washington Post on health conditions and pro football players found that 9 out of 10 retired players still suffer pain to this day (many cite back and spine pain) and that 91% of the respondents blame the pain on playing football.

Prevention

While there is no cure for degenerative joint disease, there are preventative measures one can take to slow down the natural wear and tear of bones and joints that time inevitably brings. What is happening physically is that the cartilage around the facet joint is disintegrating over time. While this cannot be prevented, it can be slowed with certain lifestyle practices that can promote spine health and overall health.

Below is a list of activities you can do to make sure you are taking as many preventative measures as you can:

  • Keeping a healthy weight. Being overweight or obese puts added compression and pressure on the spine that can increase the likelihood of developing tears in the cartilage of the disc and wearing down the cushioning between spinal vertebrae.
  • Adequate exercise. Exercising regularly with activity that is age and condition appropriate can greatly help build the necessary muscle and bone strength that is required to handle impact associated with daily tasks. Make sure that any exercise takes into account any special conditions you might be challenged with (e.g. weak or injured parts of the body like knees and the back). Physical activity should include weight resistance training and the frequency regular throughout the week. Generally, physical activity for 30-60 minutes, 3 times a week is recommended to maintain health. Speak with your doctor if you have any special challenges when it comes to exercising. Think of low impact aerobic workouts such as walking, swimming and biking as ways to stay fit and limit the impact on the spine and back.
  • Exercises that focus on the lower back and neck. Physical activity such as yoga and pilates are great practices to strengthen bone and muscle and build core strength. Most yoga and pilates classes will be mixed level and can accommodate a range of skill levels.

  • A balance diet. Eating well cannot be stressed enough for back and spine health. Keeping a diet that is high in fruit, vegetables, grains, and lean meats is very important. Try to avoid saturated fats, starches, sugar, and processed food as they can contribute to added weight and cholesterol. Many deeply colored fruits and vegetables can serve as a natural anti inflammatory while fats can increase inflammations in the body.  Keep these in mind next time your back hurts and you are walking down the produce aisle in the grocery store: cherries, beets, carrots, pomegranate and sweet potatoes. Green is also good – kale, avocados, broccoli, and spinach.  Other base ingredients to help are olive oil, beans, walnuts, almonds, garlic, cumin, ginger and basil.
  • Avoid smoking and limit alcohol intake. Studies have linked smoking to accelerated degeneration of vertebral discs. Additionally, alcohol is known to dehydrate, can speed up weight gain, and therefore increase your risk of damaging discs and joints. The same holds true for recreational and prescription drug use.
  • Ergonomics and posture.  You must be aware of posture when standing and sitting. Having poor posture (a position with slumped or sagged shoulders and a curved spine) can aggravate any existing degenerative disc disease and even facilitate further degeneration. To correct any bad posture, make sure to be aware of the length of your spine as much as possible. A quick check for good posture is to ensure that your shoulders are back and that your core is engaged.If you work in an office, make a wise investment in a sit to stand desk. Also, when at your desk, make sure your sitting and standing posture is correct. This includes keep your head over your chest – limit the hunching, bowing and tilting over to the computer screen. Sit back in the chair and feel the support in the lumbar section. The shoulder need and should be over the pelvis. Make sure your knees are bent slightly and one foot is barely in front of the other. The chair height should be at elbow’s height in regards to the desk. You don’t want to type uphill or downhill. Also, your computer monitor should be placed so your eyes first look into the middle of the screen.Keep a alarm on your computer or phone as a reminder to get up and stretch every 15-30 minutes. This small break will pay dividends for those locked to a workstation.For professional drivers or those commuting to and from work, your posture behind the wheel can help your back and spine. Proper driving posture must begin with the knees being at the same level of the hips.  One can purchase a lower back support for a car seat, or a more economical option is to roll up a towel and place it near the bottom of the seat to help support the lumbar area. Just like with a computer screen, don’t reach out to far, high or low to the steering wheel. Make sure your arms are at a consistent and comfortable level.For those who do a lot of standing at work – especially on hard flooring or concrete – make sure you wear padded insoles inside your shoes. Sure your high heels look good but they will help create added pressure on the spine and back. The insoles can range in price as low as $6.00 to up to as much as $40. You really do get what you pay for and if you suffer from degenerative disc disease, Dr Scholl’s Massaging Gel Insoles are a must
    purchase..

A visit to a sports medicine or podiatrist is also an option.  These doctor’s often prescribe orthotic shoe implants for people suffering from heel spurs or Plantar Fasciitis to relieve pain. The prescription implants are fitted exactly to one’s foot and will last longer than ones purchased over the counter. Sometimes an insurance company may not cover orthotics but if you are a runner suffering from back and spine pain, this is a worthy out of pocket expense.

Another preventive measure for those standing all days is to make sure to take breaks to sit and/or stand on a padded area. If a padded rug is not accessible, think about bringing your own small piece of padding to stand during work time or during break.

As it pertains to feet, shoe manufactures like Skechers and Rockport make shoes and sneakers that provide both style and added cushion for greater support. Fashion changes are making it better for those suffering from back pain. There are no many “sneaker-shoes” that feel like sneakers but still have enough professional appearance to wear in the workplace.Runner must always be aware of their feet so look for options that make you look and feel good. They are out there now more than ever.


False Positives

A false positive is a test result indicating that the suspected disease or injury is in fact present when in reality it is not. For example, you may wake up one day with a runny nose, congestion, a fever and come to the conclusion that you’ve caught a cold or the flu. However, upon closer observation, you notice that your eyes are also itchy and there is a thick film of pollen on your car. What you really have are seasonal allergies or hay fever brought on by an allergic reaction to tree pollen or some other type of pollen usually in high concentration in the air during the Spring.

When you are dealing with the general aches and pains of the back and neck, there are many ideas doctors may have as the source. This area of pain is ripe for false positives.

Since pain is the most common symptom with many diseases and conditions, there exist many other potential conditions that could be the root cause of the problem. Some of those conditions include:

Osteoarthritis, which is when the cartilage that sits in between joints and cushions them against impact begins to break down. It is the most common of chronic degenerative joint conditions and affects about 27 million Americans. Any joint may be affected but is most common in the knees, hips, lower back, neck and in the small joints of the fingers and toes. Healthy joints have a cartilage that covers the end of each bone and creates a smooth surface for joints to glide over one another as well as acts as a cushion for impact. When that cartilage breaks down, bone can rub on bone causing pain, inflammation, and stiffness in the joint area.

Source: Medical News Today

A herniated disc is a ruptured disc joint that begins to loose it’s shape and create pain in the affected area. It occurs with the thicker part of the disc tears and the softer material inside leaks out causing pain and inflammation in the affected area. The is usually a result of a pinched nerve that the disc material is putting pressure on. Correction of the herniated disc may require surgery to relieve the pinched nerve and to correct the rupture of the vertebral disc.

Source: Mayo Clinic

A spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the canal that houses the spinal cord and can result in pressure to the actual spinal cord and/or the nerve roots. Usually, it involves the narrowing of 3 places on the spine:

  1. In the center of the spine/canal where the spinal cord and nerve roots run through
  2. At the base of the spinal cord where the roots of nerves branch out
  3. In the openings of the vertebrae where nerve endings attached to the spinal cord leave the spine and connect with other parts of the body
Source: The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons

Sum it up

Nothing is more important than protecting and maintaining our spine health. The spine is crucial in maintaining our ability to walk, sit, and perform a number of other normal everyday activities. Good mobility lets us play with grandchildren, peruse the farmer’s market, enjoy watching our favorite team sport, and even share a meal with a loved one. Our ability to be mobile is one that we can easily take for granted–we do not realize its value until it is gone.

Think about your body when running, the body is constantly placed in a compression situation. It it not just your feet and knees feeling the brunt of the impact, it is your spine as well. For every action there is a reaction. And when you grow older, those reactions tend to pile on you.

My hope with this post is that you will be a bit more informed about what degenerative disc disease is and the steps you can take to slow down its development and even prevent its progression. And make your running routine improve and stay steady as long as possible.

Degenerative Disc Disease is a condition that none of us can avoid–it is part of the normal aging process. As we grow older, the material in our spine (the soft discs and the hard bony vertebrae) continues to wear down from a lifetime of impact and compression. Given the limited amount of blood supply to the spinal area, tissues in this region do not regenerate and regrow as quickly as other parts of the body. Therefore, it is imperative that we take preventative measures to slow the progression of degenerative joint disease. This post provides suggestions on how to maintain health with regular exercise and a healthy diet, as well as how strengthening back muscles help support the spine. For more guidance and tips on how you can take preventative measures to slow the development degenerative joint disease, visit your physician.

While the content of these sources originate from research institutions, hospital systems, peer-reviewed journals, and medical associations, the information in this post was written to be purely informational. None of the above is intended to be used as medical advice. Please seek guidance from a medical professional for any of your health needs.

 

Sources

  1. Spine Health , What Is Degenerative Disc Disease, Internet Site,
  2. WebMD, Degenerative Disc Disease, Internet Site,
  3. Arthritis Foundation, Degenerative Disc Disease , Internet Site,
  4. Mayo Clinic, Herniated Disc, Internet Site,
  5. WebMD, Bone Spurs, Internet Site,
  6. Laser Spine Institute, Degenerative Joint Disease Risk Factors, Internet Site,
  7. Arthritis Foundation, Osteoarthritis, Internet Site,
  8. National Institute of Arthritis, Musculoskeletal, and Skin Diseases. , Spinal Stenosis, Internet Site,
  9. Medical News Today, Osteoarthritis: Treatment and Self Help, Internet Site,
  10. American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, Lumbar Spinal Stenosis, Internet Site,
  11. Wellington, Jacobs, James , Management of Lumbar Conditions in the Elite Athlete, Journal of the AAOS, Jul 21, 2017
  12. Jonathan Cluett, Lumbar Spine Problems in Elite Athletes , Very Well, Jul 17, 2017