The only things to avoid with degenerative disc disease are activities that make your pain significantly worse. And even still, just because an activity makes symptoms worse does not mean you need to avoid it forever.
In fact, with the right rehab program, you can likely get back to whatever activities you want including running, jumping, lifting, etc.
There is no data to suggest that one particular activity is worse than another. If you enjoy walking, walk.
If you enjoy lifting weights, lift weights.
If you can run and don’t have any symptoms, great!
Ultimately, choose the activities that make you feel good physically and mentally.
If you need a place to start, check out this article I wrote. It shows 8+ different exercises for DDD that might be helpful for you to try out.
5 Things To Avoid With Degenerative Disc Disease
As discussed above there is no secret list of things you need to avoid. The things you should avoid or actively work towards modifying are dependent on whatever symptoms you are having.
Degenerative discs are just a diagnosis and a picture on an x-ray or MRI. They cannot predict how much pain you will have.
Continuously aggravating your lower back pain
If you are constantly doing exercises that aggravate your lower back, hips, glutes, and/or legs, then you should modify this.
This is the most common issue I find working with clients is that instead of modifying or changing their activities they keep doing the same thing and expecting a different result.
This article discusses in detail how to modify your exercises or workouts regardless of which condition you have or what your symptoms are. Please consider reading it so you are better equipped to help yourself.
If your job requires you to perform repetitive motions over the course of many hours without breaks, stretching, or warming up, it is possible that this could be contributing to more symptoms.
It’s also possible that your training program, running, lifting, cycling, etc, if you’ve recently increased your intensity or overall volume, that this could be contributing to increased symptoms.
Interestingly enough, if you are very sedentary, or don’t move very much throughout the day, this can also contribute to increased symptoms.
While it is true that some people feel better doing nothing, it’s the exception, not the rule.
If you aren’t meeting the physical activity guidelines suggested by the American academy of sports medicine, I would highly recommend you work on slowly increasing your activity levels to meet them.
Not only will you likely improve symptoms (if you progress slowly), but you’ll also increase your overall physical and mental health, leading to higher life satisfaction.
At the end of the day, we all just want to feel happy, fulfilled, and valued, right?
I know, I know… “stop smoking.” Smoking is a very hard habit to quit. Keep trying. On average it can take between 7 and 37 tries to quit, so keep going.
We aren’t entirely certain why smoking leads to higher levels of back pain, but it does. Even independent of exercise levels, smoking still increases pain levels.
You already know all the other health benefits of ceasing smoking, so I won’t pontificate here. If you want to read more about the benefits of quitting smoking and how to do it, i’ll leave a link here.
It’s funny, when I was looking at different articles, posture kept coming up. I honestly don’t understand why.
I’ve had clients with “horrible,” posture who have no back pain, and i’ve had clients with “perfect” posture who have the most severe and horrible back pain ever.
It just really depends on the person. There is no strong link between posture and neck pain or low back pain. I know that’s probably newer information for you, but it’s true.
I will concede that if you stay in one posture for an extended period of time, it’s very common and normal for things to start to hurt.
My best advice for this is to just change your posture routinely.
If you sit for work, get up ever couple hours and walk around, stretch, etc. You might even benefit from getting up more regularly, too. I can sit for about 1.5-2 hours in one place before I need to get up (when working at my desk).
Even on longer car rides I shift around routinely, probably every 45 mins to 1 hour.
It’s also nice to be able to get up when working as I think it also helps maintain focus and increases mental stimulation.
That’s my opinion though so take it as you will.
What Can You Do To Improve Your Low Back and Leg Symptoms Related to Degenerative Disc Disease?
Meet The Physical Activity Guidelines
The American Academy of Sports Medicine recommends:
- 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity per week
- 2 days per week of moderate-intensity resistance training (lifting weights)
As discussed above there are many different types of aerobic activity and types of lifting.
There are nearly endless variations of these activities that even if you are having severe pain there is likely at least a couple that will work for you.
Choose The Right Activities – Stay Moving
Find types of activity that feel good, that you enjoy, and that don’t feel like a huge chore to complete.
In the beginning when you are trying to get back into something, it’s better to start small than try and crush yourself with activity.
Too often I find my clients getting the best of themselves and trying to go a mile a minute.
Sometimes slowing down allows you to go faster.
Maintain a healthy body weight
Some people benefit from losing weight as it related to low back pain, however others find no benefit.
It really depends on the person. This is certainly something you should try for the overall benefits. Higher energy, lower cancer risk, lower diabetes risk, etc.
But, just be aware that if you expect for everything to get better when you lose weight, this may not actually be the case.
Is “Proper Lifting,” Important For Symptoms Related to DDD?
This is a loaded question. When learning how to lift weights, or when lifting heavier objects from the floor I think it is worthwhile to teach “optimal,” lifting mechanics, i.e. biomechanics that allow you to lift the most amount of weight distributed through the maximal number of muscle groups.
Lifting form likely gets more important as we increase the weight, but, the relationship between increased pain and lifting form is not as clear as you’d think.
I’ve had severe back spasms occur when lifting when I had perfect form. I’m an experienced lifter with 15 years of experience and i’ll still get some tweaks here and there. Why they happen?
Lack of sleep, fatigue, slight form change, slight imbalances? Honestly, none of those reasons are conclusive and it’s just guesswork most of the time.
So, yes, you should learn how to engage your spinal erector muscles and how to brace effectively as this aides you in lifting the maximal amount of weight, however this doesn’t necessarily translate to more or less pain.
I hope that makes sense and wasn’t an incoherent ramble.
I wrote another article on heavy lifting and degenerative disc disease if that tickles your fancy.
Is It Important to Stay Hydrated for DDD?
No. There isn’t any evidence that I have seen in the scientific literature to suggest that you must stay hydrated to reduce symptoms of DDD.
There are of course other benefits of staying hydrated, namely… not becoming dehydrated.
Thankfully, our body does a pretty good job of telling us when we need to drink from the automatic sensation of thirst.
As long as you are drinking water throughout the day and you are drinking when you’re thirsty you are probably covering your bases.
Of course, there are other caveats to this…
If you are hiking at elevation, running in very high heat index weather, or engaging in some other sporting event, of course, you will need to hydrate more.
This whole craze on hydration, and also proper ‘breathing,’ is laughable.
Thirst and breathing are things humans have been doing since the dawn of time, I’m pretty sure we’ve got it figured out by now.
- Avoid: continually aggravating activities, overuse, underuse, smoking, and staying in once posture for an incredibly long period of time.
- DO: Meet physical activity guidelines, 150 minutes aerobic per week, 2x/week of lifting weights (resistance training), choose the right activities, maintain a healthy bodyweight
- Posture likely isn’t as important when lifting lighter weights but is likely more important as you increase the weight as it allows you to more effectively transfer force.
- Hydration probably doesn’t matter or it matters very little when it comes to improving symptoms.