Degenerative Back Disease: Symptoms & Exercises

Instructor: Adrianne Baron

Adrianne has taught high school and college biology and has a master's degree in cancer biology.

There are many people in the world suffering from back pain, sometimes due to degenerative disc disease. This lesson is going to cover the symptoms of this condition and discuss exercises that help to treat it.

What Is Degenerative Back Disease?

Our backs help us to sit, stand, lie down, run, walk, and many other movements. If the back is not strong and healthy, it can cause problems in many parts of the body. There are many diseases that affect the back's bones or muscles.

Jerry suffers from one of these called degenerative back disease, which is formally called degenerative disc disease (DDD). This is a condition where the cartilage discs between the vertebrae of the backbone degenerate and wear away.

Notice that it is a condition and not a disease as the name suggests. The degeneration of the vertebral discs makes the vertebrae above and below the worn disc rub together and potentially pinch the nerves that pass through them. The vertebrae will eventually begin to degenerate as well since the cartilage that supplied it with nutrients is gone.


So you probably already guessed that this condition must be painful. That is by far the biggest symptom of degenerative disc disease. Some amount of pain will be present almost all of the time. There will also be periods of severe pain that may last for months at a time.

Another symptom Jerry may notice is that pain changes as he changes position. More pain may occur from doing simple movements such as twisting, lifting and bending. Pain may subside when walking, reclining and standing.

The muscles in the back may spasm if you have DDD. Your muscles do this as they are attempting to put your back in the correct position to take pressure off of the nerves. These can be so severe that you may not be able to change from whatever position you are in when the spasms begin.

The pinching on the nerves can cause some different sensations to be sent through the body including tingling, burning, and numbness. These will be felt in the sections of the body that are served by the pinched nerves.


Lucky for Jerry, there are some exercises he can do to help alleviate the pain that comes with DDD and prevent further degeneration of the discs in his back. These exercises will usually be done with the help of a physical therapist or other trained professional, but there are some that can be done alone as well.

Exercising with a physical therapist can help treat DDD
Collage showing physical therapy

The back, arms, legs, and neck should be stretched to help treat this condition. Stretching exercises help to increase flexibility in the back and other muscles of the body. They also help cause nutrients to flow to the bones and muscles of the back. Stretching exercises improve joint movement and flexibility. Jerry tries out tai chi, an example of stretching exercises.

Lumbar stabilization exercises are another exercise Jerry tries to treat DDD. This exercise consists of determining a comfortable position for the back and then holding the position for an extended period of time using the muscles of the lower back. Then slight movements will made to the body while the stable position is maintained. This helps to train Jerry's muscles to get into this position of less pain and resistance as he goes through his day.

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