Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Q. What is degenerative disc disease? And what exercises can I do?
A. Degenerative disc disease refers to wear and tear changes of the individual discs of the spine in any part of the spine. It is in fact not a disease but a degenerative condition.
Most common sites are lumbar (lower back) and cervical (neck) spine.
That is the part I am actually dealing with. Thoracic degenerative disc disease (DDD) is very uncommon. DDD can result from trauma. Remember my three cartwheels five years ago? That is what got my problem started, including all my years of judo and other martial arts.
It can be acute or chronic/repetitive, infection, or the natural process of aging.
Unlike muscles, there is a minimal blood supply going to the discs so they lack the ability to heal or repair themselves.
About five years ago, my physical therapist used the McKenzie method. This method deals with diagnosing and treating back pain caused by mechanical factors. It is used with patients suffering with back illnesses. It offers you a system of dealing with the pain by yourselves. It was designed by physical therapist Robin McKenzie.
It involves simple exercises that put the back/ neck in extension (stretching backward), or flexion (forward). The therapist observes the body’s response to these mechanical movements and designs a program that will best relieve the patient’s pain.
This therapy worked extremely well for me.
Something else that I have found works well is to maintain proper flexibility. It can play a significant role in preventing further degeneration and can help relieve back/neck pain.
Low impact aerobic exercise can increase the blood flow and oxygenation to the muscles, bones and ligaments of the spine.
And of course there is the water. Water exercise and swimming has gotten me through some really tough times.
I hope this will get you started. It is amazing how many people are dealing with DDD. Because of DDD, other problems can arise. Some people might only deal with back/neck pain once in a while and then there are the ones whose quality of life has significantly deteriorated.
Find a doctor you trust and who deals with this kind of problem all the time. Listen to your therapist, do the exercises he or she gives you. Believe it or not, you have to do your “homework” to see improvement.
I wish you and all the other back pain sufferers, all the pain relief in the world.
I know what you are going through.
Ester Hoeben is associate executive director of the J.F. Hurley Family YMCA. Contact her with health and fitness questions at 704-636-0111 or eburgess@rowanymca. com. For more information, log onto www.rowanymca. com.