Defining the Spine: What Does My Diagnosis Mean?
Updated: Nov 16, 2022
It is not uncommon these days to go to a medical doctor for your pain and get only a few minutes with him/her. It is also not uncommon to leave the appointment more confused than when you arrived which can lead to fear and frustration. Many times I spend the majority of the first session with my clients explaining their pain and/or diagnosis to give them a better understanding of what exactly is going on in their body. It seems to help ease their fears and give them a better understanding of what they can accomplish and how they can reach their goals; it gives them hope. So, let’s break this down and look at the most common diagnoses for the spine and what they really mean for you.
Discs: They Bulge, They Herniate, They Heal!
Between each of our vertebrae there is a disc. The disc is a squishy, jelly-filled circular object that prevents each vertebrae from smashing into the next and absorbs forces as we move. The center of the disc, the “jelly” per se, is called the Nucleus and the outer rim around it is called the Annulus.
Sometimes when we put repetitive strain on the disc through twisting, lifting, or utilizing bad posture and damage it even to the point that the Nucleus begins to bulge out the side. If the strain is bad enough it can rupture and this is called a herniation. Check out my blog post "Posture: Does it Really Affect Us?" to find out more about how poor posture can affect more than just our back.
The good news is…our discs heal! A typical herniated disc heals within 3 months, give or take, and can heal quicker with the correct posture and exercises to decrease the pressure being placed on the disc. Without the proper treatment and corrective posture/core control going forward, you may be more likely to re-injury that disc up to a 25% chance.
Degenerating Discs or Joints DISEASE!!!
Ahhh! Disease! A word nobody wants to hear! Degenerative disc or joint disease is actually not a disease at all, but rather a process of normal age-related degeneration that occurs over time. Although it is very normal, there are things that can cause this progression to happen faster than it should including:
Poor posture over time
General weakness over time
Repetitive twisting or lifting.
What happens in the case of degenerating joints or discs is a loss of cartilage between each vertebrae and changes to the actual bones of the spine that can lead to decreased shock absorption and increased bone damage and inflammation. Over time, these changes can lead to decreased space between each vertebrae which leads to compression of the nerves that come out from the spinal cord between each segment of the spine. This narrowing of space is called Stenosis.
Have no fear! There are many techniques that we can help you with to open up the space between each vertebrae to take pressure off of the nerves and allow them time to heal. Along with learning how to strengthen and utilize your core muscles, you will be able to decrease future compression of the nerve and function normally.
Osteoarthritis and Osteoporosis
Arthritis, such a dreaded word, right? Once again, not something to fear. It is very normal. As we age the fluid that lubricates our joints decreases and the cartilage becomes worn with normal wear and tear. As this begins to happen, our bones become inflamed from pounding on one another and that is when we get the diagnosis of arthritis = inflammation of the joints/bones.
Although there are examples of arthritis in people that you would think are too young, there is still hope to prevent further damage and protect your joints. The best thing that you can do is regularly exercise, specifically strengthening exercises, to provide muscle support around our joints. Check out my free e-book "Top 5 Exercises for a Bulletproof Back" to get an idea of exercises that could help manage your back pain. A diagnosis of arthritis doesn’t mean you no longer can play sports, run, or even walk around your neighborhood. In fact, it may mean just the opposite. You need to start incorporating activity and exercise into your life and learn how to protect your joints along with it.
As you get stronger, you want to learn how to activate these muscles when we are doing strenuous activities that could cause compression at our joints and lead to quicker degeneration of the cartilage: running, jumping, twisting, etc. Learning how to activate your glutes when we jump, run, or lift objects is one huge example of how you can protect your joints and decrease the progression of arthritis.
What is the Take Away?
Take care of your body. Exercise regularly. Work on your posture. Learn how to protect your joints through muscle activation and control. Reach out to your favorite physical therapist…me! I’m here to help you. We can work together to learn exercise programs and core control and awareness so that you can prevent re-injury of back pain and the potential for arthritis.
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