In my view, disc degeneration is somewhere along the lines of death and taxes – inevitable and it affects everyone. However, while everyone may show the signs of disc degeneration (on X-ray), what that actually means in terms of pain, quality of life and disability varies from person to person.
Intervertebral discs (IVDs) are crucial when it comes to support, stability and proper motion in the spine. They are also prone to breakdown and degeneration which can contribute to low back pain. How much contribution IVDs make to low back conditions, and how to treat them, are hotly debated issues.
A recent review article in the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy states that surprisingly, the biggest predictive factor for disc degeneration is genetic factors as opposed to lifestyle factors (heavy lifting, smoking, vibration exposure). Even weight lifting, when performed properly, did not lead to an increase in the presence of degeneration.
I can’t count the number of times someone has come into my office after receiving the diagnosis of “disc degeneration” from a set of X-rays recently taken. This is always a misleading diagnosis, as patients will often assume it is a permanent condition which is causing their pain and that there is nothing to be done about the irreversible process. This Comox Valley Chiropractor has become quite adept at communicating to them that this is a normal process of aging and rarely does it lead to serious disease. The best ways to combat the progression is through a healthy lifestyle including cardiovascular exercise and strength training. It should also be made clear that lumbar traction (or decompression) has not been consistently shown to help disc problems, even if practitioners do have great marketing campaigns with expensive machines!