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Dealing with Degenerative Disc Disease

Updated on June 25, 2013


Millions of people suffer from lower back issues. Whether it's degenerative disc disease, bulging disc or ruptured discs these problems will greatly affect your quality of life and work.

I have lived with disc issues for fifteen years. Beginning in my late twenties I began experiencing back spasms of the lower lumbar spine. At the time of my first major episode I was playing golf. My back began to hurt and tighten, by the time I reached the last hole one of my golfing partners had to pull me out of the cart. That night I could not move. My wife woke me in the middle of the night wanting to call an ambulance or take me to the hospital because I was hyperventilating and could not move. Major spasms will lock up the entire body and when you move the pain and tightening can cause labored breathing. After a few days it went away and did not return until two years later after an injury occurred at work. In a hurry, I decided to pick up a stack of road cones. More than I should have. After a pop and some sharp pain I reported the issue and went to a health center. This began a five year battle with back spasms, leg pain, numbness and loss of strength.

The first episode occurred in 1999, by 2004 they were so frequent sick days started to dwindle. At this point I had numbness and pain in the left leg all the way through to my left hip. The loss of strength was causing issues as well because in my line of work there were occasions where you might have to struggle with people or objects. In late 2004, such an occasion presented itself. When I reached a fellow coworker and tried to help the loss of strength and tightening in my back prevented me from helping. Since these could be life and death situations I began going to doctors and physical therapy. After a series of nerve root blocks and weeks of therapy I felt better at times but the strength did not return while the spasms did.

In December 2004 the decision was made to stop doing the job and go back to school. I did not apply for disability because I did not feel disabled. I did however recognize things needed to change and as long as I was on the job they would not.


Physical therapy is good but must be taken seriously and with the proper conditions. If you have a job or do things that are counter intuitive to the therapy things will not get better. IF you take the steps to start therapy you must do it regularly and properly. If you leave therapy and return to normal activities of lifting or moving things without proper stability things will not get better. The key is stability that comes from training the body to work properly. Having issues in one area can cause overcompensation in another. Core training is key. If you cannot learn to use your core properly the pain will never go away. Physical therapist will work on this but to get better results find a trainer with a proper background in health and therapy and start a program designed to help with the areas where you have issues.

This process must become a lifestyle. Once you start feeling better, stopping what you are doing will only allow the conditions to return. Many people may never experience lower back issues again while others will always struggle. Even when everything is done right, degenerative disc disease and bulging discs may persist. But with proper stabilization you can minimize the affects. This I know personally, while I still have occasional pain, the severity is cut by 90% and it is rarely disabling. Almost 44 years old, I am in better shape today than at 24. I can now play two to four rounds of golf per week with little to no pain. Five years ago two rounds in a week would put me down for several days.

Lifestyle Improvement

Once you are back in good shape make sure you continue and progress. Eat right and stay fit. A small waste line does a lot to improve back issues. A good exercise program will strengthen the core and a proper weight will further improve stability. Whether willing to admit it or not, many back issues are magnified by a poor lifestyle. Being a couch potato will accelerate back pain and make stability a major issue. Once you feel better and are pain free you will wonder why you did not do this ten years ago.


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