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Lumbar Disc Degeneration: Overview, Causes, and Symptoms

What is it?

The discs of the spine sit between the vertebral bodies and act as shock absorbers for the spine. In the lumbar spine the outer part of the disc is made up of thick fibrous rings called the annulus fibrosus and the inner part is a soft jelly-like substance called the nucleus pulposus. The discs in the spine also move to allow flexibility and movement of the spine, particularly in the lumbar spine where they are the largest.

As we age, our discs begin to dehydrate, losing height, elasticity, and flexibility. The result is a spine that can feel stiffer, less flexible and a bit sore with certain movements. While almost everyone will have some degree of degeneration into their later years, not everyone will experience symptoms.

What are the Symptoms?

The most commonly felt symptoms of disc degeneration are stiffness and pain in the lower back. The pain is usually felt over the spine where the disc degeneration has occurred, but also often radiates into the buttock region. In severe cases of disc degeneration, increased wear and tear can cause bony spurs to develop on the vertebral body. These spurs can cause muscle weakness, numbness and tingling sensations in the leg and foot if they place pressure on the nerves around the spine.

How does this happen?

Disc degeneration usually affects people over the age of 50, however symptoms can begin in your 30s. As we age, all of our tissues gradually lose collagen and elastin, in the spinal discs this process results in smaller, less flexible discs. Repetitive activities like bending on the waist to lift heavy objects and prolonged sitting also cause additional wear and tear of the discs and amplify the degenerative process.

How Can Physiotherapy Help?

Imaging such as MRI and XRAY can help determine the level of degeneration that has occurred with increasing accuracy, however in recent years research has shown that the level of degeneration that can be seen In imaging cannot reliably predict the amount of pain a person will experience. This can be confusing for patients and getting scans that show large amounts of degeneration can be a distressing experience, regardless of symptoms, making patients feel helpless.

Physiotherapy can help patients return to their normal activities as soon as possible and regain optimal function for their individual presentation. In addition, physiotherapy helps patients to manage their pain by helping them understand their pathology and, strengthen trunk stabilisers to prevent recurrence of any injury.

The information in this article is not a replacement for proper medical advice. Always see a medical professional for advice on your individual injury.

Caboolture Physical Therapy Centre - serving people in need from the following areas: Caboolture, Morayfield, Elimbah, Wamuran, Beerburrum, Beerwah, Glasshouse Mountains, Toorbul, Donnybrook, Ningi, Woodford, Kilcoy, Bribie Island, Goodwin Beach, Sandstone Point, Banksia Beach, Bongaree, Bellar, Woorim, Burpengary & Beachmere.

The Hidden Risks Of A Sedentary Lifestyle

By now it should come as no surprise that prolonged periods of inactivity are bad for your health. It seems that the science is in, and the bad news is that long periods of sitting or inactivity is a risk factor for many diseases, independent of other factors such as obesity.

What does this mean?

This means that if you are hitting the gym for an hour a day, but are sitting down for long periods during the rest of the day without moving, you may not be avoiding the health risks that come with sitting.

So why is sitting so bad?

There is evidence that shows that when sitting for long periods, our bodies show unhealthy changes in blood pressure and blood sugar levels that over long periods of time can lead to increased risk of diabetes, dementia and obesity. How much sitting is considered too much and how long it takes for these changes to take place is up for debate. What we do know is that regularly breaking up your periods of sitting is a healthy lifestyle choice you can make for yourself in the same way that drinking water, regular cardio exercise and eating vegetables are.

The insidiousness of the issue is that it’s likely that you are sitting much more than you used to without even realising it. Car commutes to work are getting longer, working days are often spent at a desk and with the rise of online T.V, you might be guilty of three or more hours stuck in one spot catching up with your favourite characters before you know it.

I have an office job, what can I do?

The first step to changing this habit is to start being aware of exactly how long you are sitting for an uninterrupted period of more than 20 minutes. Once you start noticing your daily patterns you can identify moments where changes can be made. We’ve heard of incidental exercise, but we’ll call this ‘incidental standing’. Consider standing on the train instead of sitting or standing when you have a document to read.

Here are a few other tips to get you moving;

  • Set an alarm to go off every half an hour that reminds you to get up and get a drink (this might also help to keep you hydrated)
  • Try out a standing desk
  • Stand up to take phone calls or get up to go ask a colleague a question instead of calling them
  • Take a walking lunch break

Speak to your physiotherapist for more ideas tailored to suit your individual lifestyle.

Caboolture Physical Therapy Centre - serving people in need from the following areas: Caboolture, Morayfield, Elimbah, Wamuran, Beerburrum, Beerwah, Glasshouse Mountains, Toorbul, Donnybrook, Ningi, Woodford, Kilcoy, Bribie Island, Goodwin Beach, Sandstone Point, Banksia Beach, Bongaree, Bellar, Woorim, Burpengary & Beachmere.
Posturing Yourself to Feel Better

Posturing Yourself to Feel Better

Being told to stand up straight is a rite of passage for most teenagers. New research is showing that there is more to gain from having good posture than just a healthy spine. Your posture and body language have now been shown to affect the way you feel. Most people recognize that when you’re unhappy or tired you naturally slouch and when you’re feeling confident your shoulders are set back and you have a spring in your step.

What is more difficult to understand is that the reverse is also true. It seems that your posture can also affect your mood. In a recent study, people who adopted a posture of confidence for two minutes before a job interview reported feeling more confident and actually performed better in the interview than people who adopted low confidence postures for the same period of time.

You already knew that a good posture could make you feel better but this adds a whole new dimension to the issue. It also seems that you actually can run away from your problems. A study of college students suffering from mild to moderate depression showed improvement of their mood after starting a jogging program. When they were compared to students who took anti-depressants instead, they found the jogging students felt better quicker with fewer side effects.

By no means is exercise a replacement for supervised treatment, but it has a very useful place. Patients who combine high intensity exercise with other treatment types are also less likely to have recurring episodes of depression than those who don’t.

So along with less pain, increased strength, lower risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes and osteoporosis, you can add mental well being to the list of reasons to move well and stay active.

Posturing Yourself to Feel Better

Caboolture Physical Therapy Centre - serving people in need from the following areas: Caboolture, Morayfield, Elimbah, Wamuran, Beerburrum, Beerwah, Glasshouse Mountains, Toorbul, Donnybrook, Ningi, Woodford, Kilcoy, Bribie Island, Goodwin Beach, Sandstone Point, Banksia Beach, Bongaree, Bellar, Woorim, Burpengary & Beachmere.
Is sitting for long periods bad

Don’t Sit Down – This is Important!

We know that repetitive behavior can cause injuries, but scientists have found that the worst type of repetitive behavior could be sitting itself. Any physiotherapist will tell you that the human body is made to move, but in our modern lives it’s hard to avoid sitting. More of our lives are online, our work and entertainment are often done through a screen. Add in the drive to work and you realize we are sitting more now than any other time in history. But why would it be bad for us?

To start with, extended periods without moving regularly causes joints to stiffen a little. Maybe not a lot in just one day, but over a long period of time joints begin to lose some of their movement.

Joints need to be able to move freely to stay healthy. This is particularly true in the spine, as the back is made up of many small bones, known as vertebrae. Vertebrae are connected to each other and move through lots of little joints. When one segment is not moving well, the joints around it have to move further to allow normal movement. If this happens with too many segments, the softer structures that restrict movement, called ligaments, are at risk of being damaged.

Is sitting for long periods badIn fact, quite a lot of lower back pain is caused by stiffness of the upper back. When we have a hunched posture our thorax is unable to rotate properly and the lower back moves more to compensate, sometimes leading to injury.

The dangers of sitting, however, go further than just bad posture and back pain. Scientists are finding that sitting for extended periods can actually increase your risk of heart disease, obesity, cancer and diabetes.

It doesn’t seem likely, but when we sit our bodies become very relaxed. Most body systems slow right down, particularly those that break down sugars and almost all muscles become inactive.

It is starting to be understood that sitting for long periods disrupts the normal functions of the body and as such is a major cause of disease. Even worse news is that just going to the gym or for an extended walk once a day doesn’t counteract this, it is much more effective to breakup long sessions of sitting by standing or walking for a few minutes. This is not to say that going to the gym isn’t important, it’s just that if you sit still for six consecutive hours you don’t undo the damage with half an hour of exercise later.

There are many simple ways to combat this problem. Standing has been shown to be much better than sitting, so if you have an office job, perhaps go out of your way to stand up wherever possible. Take your phone calls standing up or get up and walk over to colleagues instead of sending an email if you can. One minute of movement every twenty minutes could be enough to keep you in good health.

If you are suffering from lower back pain, please book in to see one of our trained friendly therapists HERE

Caboolture Physical Therapy Centre - serving people in need from the following areas: Caboolture, Morayfield, Elimbah, Wamuran, Beerburrum, Beerwah, Glasshouse Mountains, Toorbul, Donnybrook, Ningi, Woodford, Kilcoy, Bribie Island, Goodwin Beach, Sandstone Point, Banksia Beach, Bongaree, Bellar, Woorim, Burpengary & Beachmere.