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Living with Degenerative Spinal Joint Disease

Updated on December 5, 2009


Degenerative spinal joint disease, also known as osteoarthritis, is caused by cartilage breakdown between the joints of the spine. The cartilage acts as a cushion between the bones of the joints. When the cartilage wears away, the bones rub together causing pain, swelling, and loss of joint motion. There is no known cause for osteoarthritis but risk factors include aging, being a female, heredity, injury and obesity.


Symptoms of degenerative joint disease can include swelling or tenderness loss of flexibility, stiffness in the mornings, bony lumps on the joints, and steady or intermittent pain.


I personally have been living osteoarthritis for the past 10 years. I was diagnosed at the very young age of 17. I was told at age 22 that my spine looked like that of a 70 year old woman. The pain can be gut-wrenching at times and I have sought treatment many times, much to no avail. One thing I have learned about osteoarthritis is that the most effective treatment is really a lifestyle change of the affected individual. The following steps have helped me more than any doctor or physical therapist has been able to.


Diet and Exercise- A healthy diet and exercise is the single most important thing you can do to ease the pain in you spine. Degenerative joints are common in people who are overweight, perhaps because of the extra weight bearing on joints. Every pound you can lose is another pound that your weak joints won’t have to carry around. Losing weight can work miracles on the pain you suffer. However, losing the weight is not the only factor. It is also important to exercise the muscles in your back and make them stronger. When the muscles are stronger, they carry more of the weight load, relieving the strain off your spine. The stomach muscles also play a part in supporting your spine so sit-ups and crunches are also helpful. When first starting an exercise routine, it is normal for the joints in the spine to become swollen and painful. This will pass as your body gets used to it but your doctor may want to prescribe a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory. This will help decrease the swelling and pain after exercising. Over the counter, ibuprofen is also helpful with joint pain because it reduces the swelling.



Lay on a Flat Surface- The end of the work day is always the most painful time of day me. Sitting at a desk for 8-10 hours, especially if you have bad posture, can be torturous. The joints in the spine become very painful from sitting on top of each other, with very little movement all day. By the time I get home sometimes, I am walking like an old pregnant woman. The first thing I do is lay flat on my back on the floor for about 20 minutes. It helps to stretch and realign my spine and the pain will decrease greatly after 20 minutes of laying flat on a hard surface.


Supplements- Especially if you are dieting to get the weight off, you should take supplements to help joint health. Glucosamine can help in the formation and repair of cartilage. The recommended dosage is 1500mg per day. Chondrotin can help with the resiliency of cartilage and also prevent the actions of enzymes that destroy cartilage. MSM is also a helpful supplement because it helps maintain healthy ligament. There are also combination supplements that contain all three of these supplements.


Posture- Your posture plays a very important role in the health of your spine. Correct posture will put less strain on your spine and help prevent pain. Sometimes, degenerative joints in the spine can make it difficult to sit up straight for very long. While you may be tempted to wear a support brace to help you sit up straight, it is usually not recommended. This is because relying on a brace to do all the work can actually make your muscles weaker and cause more pain in the long run. Try placing a pillow behind your lower back while sitting for long periods of time.


Stretch and Keep Moving- Degenerative joints often cause stiffness in the morning. A good stretch when you wake up will help loosen the stiff joints and get the blood circulating. Also, move around as much as possible throughout the day to prevent stiffness from coming back. If you work in an office, stand up and stretch often and try to stop and walk for a minute or two about every half hour.


Massage- When your spine is weak, your muscles work overtime to support your back. Gentle massage can have great benefits for people with degenerative joints. Some of the benefits are pain relief, soothing of stiff muscles, reducing inflammation and swelling, and improving range of motion. Most massage parlors offer memberships for people who need massages on a regular basis so that they can get a discounted price.


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