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Disc Info - John H or Anyone

Posted by Dorothy on 8/11/04 at 21:32 (157627)

John H or Anyone
Do you have any information on anything that can improve or reverse or simply maintain status quo of degenerative disc problems?
A height measurement at a simple follow-up appt at the doctor's office showed I have lost 1/2 inch - that is a lot! - in a relatively short time (I think about 2 or 3 years). I am to have a bone density test to rule out osteoporosis, but I don't think that is the problem. The other cause would be degenerative disc ?disease? problems. I have a gut feeling that is what is going on - and I think it may be what is happening with the feet, sciatica, and so on. One-half inch! I miss it already, now that I know it's gone. It was my favorite 1/2 inch and now it's gone. I came home and did some internet reading on degenerative discs and read, much to my surprise, that 1 in 10 CHILDREN have degenerative discs and asymptomatic signs of back problems before puberty! I was sad and glad to read that. Sad because of what it is. Glad because for a moment I didn't feel like an aging person falling apart bit by bit.
I think it was Bette Davis who said, 'Getting old ain't for sissies.'
No, I'm not old but like all of us humans, I am 'getting old.' I'd sure like to do it upright and with a good spine (feet/legs/knees/hips, etc etc)

Comments please....

Re: Disc Info - John H or Anyone

Julie on 8/12/04 at 01:58 (157642)


I'm sorry about your favourite half inch.

The intervertebral discs account for a quarter of the length of our spine. In degenerative disc disease, which affects almost everyone as age advances, the discs shrink and flatten: the effect of less-than-perfect body use, lack of exercise, and last but definitely not least the downward pull of gravity. The cumulative effect is the loss of height - it can be as much as 4-6 inches - that we've all observed in older people.

How to avoid it? Do everything possible to ensure a good blood supply from early in life. This really means 'exercise', and especially yoga, correctly practised, because its main focus is on the spine.

In childhood and youth the discs have a good blood supply, but once we're fully mature nourishment has to come from movement. Fluids are drawn in and flushed out of the discs as we flex, extend and twist. As we get older, if we don't exercise properly and elongate the spine, the discs will start to shrink. Movement needs to be correct, otherwise the discs won't be properly nourished because they are compressed - so degeneration begins. The changes occur in the cartilage which dries out and eventually cracks, roughens and weakens. Because the cartilage has relatively few pain-sensitive nerve-endings, it can wear away without discomfort until the condition has become quite advanced (the sudden intense pain of so-called 'slipped disc' is almost always the end result of a long process).

Once deterioration of a disc or discs has set in to the point of measurable height loss, there isn't anything that can be done to reverse the process. But I believe that it is possible to slow it down, and maybe even maintain the status quo, which is what you're looking for now. You practise yoga - continue with that (it has surely already helped you - your problems might have begun sooner without it). Keep stretching! But take care: incorrectly practised, almost any backward bend, forward bend, twist or side stretch will cause compression. The aim, in any movement, any posture you practise, should be to lengthen the spine. This means avoiding overcompression in backward bends, avoiding 'rounding' in forward bends, and avoiding 'squashing' in side bends and twists.

But the main thing now, prophylactically speaking, is to do all you can to strengthen the muscles that support the spine, principally the abdominal and paraspinal muscles. Again, yoga will help here, and I think you also do Pilates, which is excellent in its focus on the 'core'.

You mentioned children. It is indeed extremely sad that so many start degenerative disc disease so early. Different causes - but I think the main ones are lack of exercise (parental fears of children playing outdoors, TV, computer games etc etc) and school furniture. Yes, school furniture. Few of us are old enough to remember the lectern-style tilted school desks, but their replacement with flat desks has been a huge factor in spinal problems throughout the community. When working at a desk, whether at school or at work, a person needs to be able to maintain an upright, lengthened spine. But ALL school and office desks encourage hunching and rounding of the back, which in turn causes congestion of the chest and abdomen and the obvious effects on breathing and organ function.

This has got too long. Hope it's helpful, or at least interesting.

Re: Disc Info - John H or Anyone

Marty from SLC on 8/12/04 at 12:56 (157692)

I'm will agree totally with you!!!! I have sit down job and if I don't get up and move around every 15 minutes or so I really notice it. If I sit to long my right leg starts the pins and needles thing and it doesn't take long. I' just learning now at 44 years old that movement and flexibility are really important.

Re: Disc Info - John H or Anyone

Cyndi on 8/12/04 at 14:14 (157696)

Dorothy, I never replied about walking on heels as i knoe nothing about this, but disc problems, I can give some input. I have had back problems for many years I thought due to a couple of rollover car accidents years ago. Two in one year! Anyway, I found my sit down job to be agony and when I took another job, it got much better. I was much more active and forgot about it for years. Three years ago it started again. I saw a neuro-surgeon rather than orthapedic and he found a degenerative disc with an MRI. He referred me with the injection shots at the hospital and I walked away from the Hospital pain free. It recurred again within maybe 6 weeks and I have two more shots within a year period. No pain until this year and more since I have been not active with my feet.
I agree exercise and movement help alot.
I also take Actonel 35 mg once a week to help with bone loss and also Calcium, at least 1500 Mg a day. Eat yogurt and lots of protein per my DR when I broke my leg last Thanksgiving Day. I also was taking Celebrex before my foot problems and am still taking it. I am also shorter now at 54 this weekend is my birthday.
Perhaps seeing a Neurologist again would be better that the POD.
I hope this helps alittle.

Re: Disc Info - John H or Anyone

john h on 8/12/04 at 14:55 (157697)

Cyndi:Your symptoms seem very consistent with mine. Sitting and driving is terrible. Until I got PF I was very active. Ran 30 miles a week competitively. Played basketball at noon time with the guys. Golfed in the summer and worked in the yard. My back pain was moderated significantly. Once I slowed down because of PF my back pain came back with a vengence. No question in my mind the lack of all the activity I once did played an important part in this. I have had a series of shots and they lasted for no more than 3 days. At 54 we all have degenerative disc and we all will have degenerative disc disease if we live long enough. When the Doctor told me about 25 years ago I had degenerative disc disease I was in total shock. Sounded like some irreversable deadly disease. Basically it is just wear and tear. Some people can have their disc almost collapse on top of eacch other and have no pain. Others with just a sligt bulge or narrow space can have significant pain. After my recent visit to the Texas Back Institute with an MRI and Discogram the Doctors are rather certain my pain is comming from the L5/S1 area. They think I am a good candidate for an artifical disc which sure beats a fusion as you are up and going in 3 days and they do not cut through your large back muscles as they approach from the front. I saw my local spine surgeon and he agreed. He is going to Canada next week to receive training on artifical disc replacement. I obviously will opt (if i do it) for the very experienced Doctor in Texas who has done hundreds of them during the FDA studies. The FDA will approve the artifical disc in October as the data is in and it indicates an 80% success rate. The study has been going on for several years with hundreds if not thousands of implants. This type of surgery has been approved in Europe for many years. There are four types of Disc on the market. The one I am looking at will be the first one approved as each disc has to go through the complete FDA protocol which is long and costly. These disc unlike a fusion allow movement. You might be interested to see one. Look at http://www.texasback.com and searh throuhg the site and you will find one. My Doctor (Dr. Gyer) is also on the site and this clinic is the lead clinic in the U.S. on this FDA study. I have seen both Neurosurgeons and Orthopedic Surgeons specializing in spine care. One is as good as the other and one should look for one who has a lot of experience in what ever procedure you might look at. Texas Back treats only back and neck problems and all Doctors are spine specialist with Fellowships. They also provide Fellowship training and include a lot of sub specialist on the staff to help with spine care. They even have a Chiropractor on staff. Over half their patients apparently fly in from all over the world. Hope you can control your pain with conservative treatment as the diagnosis of Degenerative Disc Disease is sort of a catch all diagnosis almost indicating they are not exactly sure where your pain is comming from. A discogram is one of the better tools available to 'help' pinpoint the pain generator. When they injected dye into my L5/S1 area I sure knew the pain was there big time whereas at the two levels above no pain. Back pain sort of feeds on itself. As pain causes the muscles to contract causing more pain. I flew aircraft for over 20 years and pilots are notorious for having back and neck problems. Crashing did not help either. If you want to know about back procedures I think I have had them all including steriod injections, radio frequency lesioning, discogram, facet injectionsm MRI,XRay,Chiropractor, many of the far east types of treatments. What helped most was keep on moving. I would certainly suggest what ever Doctor you see that he is a specialist in spine care and not just a general orthopedist or neurosurgeon. Most cities have spine care centers.

Re: Disc Info - John H or Anyone

Dorothy on 8/13/04 at 10:37 (157747)

Cyndi -
Thank you for responding to my posts. I'm not seeing a Pod. This was just a regular doctor and a routine check-up that revealed the change in height. I, too, have a history of back problems which for a time were quite severe. It was a process that taught me some important things. What helped was exercise and I truly 'gutted' it out - and was rewarded by getting dramatically better, but it took time and tremendous effort. Everything was going along well until the feet problems and accompanying Achilles problems. Then even that seemed to be at a mostly tolerable level. With both the back and the feet/Achilles, everything always seems tenuous so I am constantly 'aware'.
I have known about disc degeneration but was really taken aback by the 1/2 inch height loss in a relatively short period of time and so wanted to know if anyone knew of things one can do to forestall further disc degeneration.
I am planning to start taking a supplement called Injuv which is hyaluronic acid. It is used as an injectible for knee problems and for backs as well, I guess, but mostly effective for knees. Also some controversy as to whether it is effective at all when taken orally...

Your comment that you eat 'lots of protein' was interesting to me. This is another point on which one gets lots of conflicting information. Many say that eating lots of protein contributes to more rapid bone loss. Then last year there were reports of studies that 'seniors' who eat 'lots of protein' had fewer hip fractures. Aaaaaarrrrrgh!!!! Your particular situation is probably special because you had broken leg (I'm sorry to hear that! That must have been awful. That would certainly challenge your feelings of gratitude on Thanksgiving Day! I hope you have mended well from that??)

Happy Birthday, Cyndi!! May your 55th year be a healthier one in every way.

Re: Disc Info - John H or Anyone

Cyndi on 8/13/04 at 13:15 (157762)

Thanks Dorothy for the birthday Wishes. I will be 54 tomorrow, but, that is enough for everyone to blame health problems on age, Arggg!
I found I was shorter when measured for a Life Insurance Policy in 2002.
DR with back said I would be getting shorter with age. No Matter,
The broken leg was a breeze compared to these feet. I was able to continue working and standing all day in a boot cast that was removable for showers. I have found the night splint to be of help sleeping but only started it after the feet problems. It just seems my symtoms just came from no where. The foot tightness and standing like on broken glass just kind of started without me realizinghow bad it was. I sometimes wonder if working with the boot cast caused trama to my feet as I was not the same height on both legs, but, my POD disagrees. Both feet involved is also strange for that. well, I am just going to have to start thinking positive that Mind over matter will make this go away. I want to walk my dogs again. Also I lived in an RV with steps and walked my dogs many times daily after 911 when My hubby lost his IT computer job. I wore Teva sandels and Sketchers lace ups with no foot problems. Maybe this ringy dingy feeling will go away. All have a safe Fri 13th!

Re: Disc Info - John H or Anyone

Dorothy on 8/13/04 at 18:18 (157781)

Cyndi - You've had a lot to deal with and I'm really sorry; it does sound like you maintain your sense of humor as much as you can. What you don't need is me adding on another year that you haven't earned yet! That just gives me a chance to say that I hope your 54th year will be healthier and happier. Very best wishes to you ~

Re: Disc Info - John H or Anyone

Dorothy on 8/13/04 at 18:28 (157783)

Julie - I have now read this post and it is both helpful and interesting. Thank you. I really need to pay more attention to how I do 'Cobra' pose, for example, which always feels so good to the back, because I think I do tend to compress rather than lengthen. Thanks again, Julie. I wish I lived near your class site because I would sign up for classes with you in a minute!

Re: Cobra for Dorothy

Julie on 8/14/04 at 02:56 (157816)


I'm glad it was helpful. Yes, backbending postures can be damaging to the lumbar spine if not done well. The key is to avoid over-compression in an area of the spine that loves to move in that direction (being a lordotic curve, it's already going in that direction, so extension is easy for it). All postures, backbends included, should lengthen the whole spine, but backbend tend to be practised incorrectly, largely due to a lack of understanding of what they should be doing, which is working the upper back while protecting the lower back from too much compression.

With Cobra, the main culprit is the instruction to start by positioning the hands under the shoulders, which (unless one has very short arms and a long upper body) will always result in a much-too-deep bend in the lower back. and severe compression. A healthy young spine won't object to this, and it will feel good, but if the posture is practised this way over years, it will take its toll on the lumbar discs.

One thing I've discovered is that in practising any posture, you have to take account of your own body structure (and in teaching, lots of different body structures). Everyone is different, therefore no one instruction fits all. I think this applies particularly when starting the journey towards Cobra, and for years now I have taught it like this:

Start with arms stretched out in front of you, hands shoulder width apart. Stretch down through the backs of your legs and move your tailbone towards your heels.

Leading with the crown of the head, slide your nose and chin along the floor, and 'walk' your hands back, just a couple of inches.

Continue moving your hands slowly back, keeping your elbows on the floor, and pausing between each move. Don't use the strength of the hands and arms: let the upper back do as much of the work as possible.

With each shift of the hands, your chest will lift a little higher, and you'll be working a little further down into your upper back and then your midback.

When your elbows are directly underneath your shoulders, stop: you're in the Sphinx posture. Stay there for awhile: this is an excellent position in which to work the upper back, which in most people is a stiff, tight area that doesn't get sufficient movement.

To proceed towards the Cobra, lift your elbows from the floor. Keep them aligned with your wrists and shoulders: don't poke them out (and don't hunch your shoulders). Your chest will lift further, and as it does you'll feel the work further down the back. If at this point you feel a little compression in the lumbar, this is as far as you ought to go.

From here on, proceed - if you are going to - mindfully. As you move your hands further back, be very aware of the sensations in the lower back. You're aiming for a smooth, comfortable curve right through the spine, with no feeling of great compression in the lower spine. If you start feeling more than slight compression, you've gone too far: retreat a bit by walking your hands forward.

The degree to which the hands can be moved back from the Sphinx position depends on the length of the arms in relation to the length of the spine: everyone is different, and this is why the same starting position for the hands isn't suitable for everyone. For some people (people who have long arms and short upper bodies) Sphinx may be as far as it's advisable to go.

I like this way of working into the Cobra because (a) it allows everyone to find their own optimum, the posture that is right for them and (b) its focus is on the upper back, which desperately needs the work, and (c) most importantly, it protects the lower back.

I hope this is helpful. Ask me if anything isn't clear. If you try it, I'll be interested to know how you get on.