I have degenerative disc disease.
I do not have a herniated disc. (See a previous post.)
(For a 2020 update on my degenerative disc disease, click here for the article.)
With just one x-ray, an orthopedic surgeon diagnosed me with a lifelong condition. No MRIs, no CT scans. Just one simple x-ray and an exam. Of course, what made it worse, was that this doctor didn’t show any empathy, compassion, or provide helpful ways to manage my pain. What I thought was a small issue that simply needed time and treatment to heal, had become in moments, a condition I was going to learn to live with. I was simply given prescriptions for an anti-inflammatory medication and physical therapy, and sent on my way.
So I froze. With glazed eyes and a motionless face, I walked to my car.
While walking in the parking lot, my mind was racing with thoughts: I should get a second opinion. This doctor was so insensitive. How did this happen? Do I need surgery? I have a disease? Am I going to be in pain forever? How can I live this way? I didn’t make it to the car before the tears started. I was damaged, my body was broken, and my spirit was shattered.
Earlier this year, I saw a chiropractor for a suspected bulging or herniated disc and wrote a blog post about it. In addition to getting two chiropractic treatments a week, I purchased an inversion table to help take some of the weight off my discs for a few minutes a day, hoping to ease my pain. I later wrote a follow-up post to let my readers know if the inversion table was really helping.
Several months before this, when my pain first started, I simply thought my hip (sacroiliac joint) was just out of whack. After all, I felt like I was relatively young to have any serious back issues; I only just turned 40 this year! I’m also someone who works out 4 days a week and considers myself relatively fit. However, after dealing with on and off tingling in my legs for many months, I decided to see a chiropractor. After a couple of months of treatment, I was better, but not by much. I stopped visiting the chiropractor and hoped that regular use of the inversion table would allow the disc to fully heal and relieve my pain.
About six months later, still with back pain and occasional numbness in my leg, I decided to see an orthopedic surgeon. It was here I had the x-rays done and received my diagnosis of degenerative disc disease (DDD).
The disc that’s causing my pain lies between L5 and S1, which seems to be the most common place in the spine to have problems.
The pain and subsequent numbness and tingling in my lower extremities is the result of nerve irritation. Any single movement can bring me weeks of pain. Any twist, bending, or simple activity involving my lower back can cause a flare up. As a result, I have to be cautious everyday. Anytime I bend to lift something, I have to be careful; and lifting with my legs doesn’t always work because I have very bad knees. However, the worst thing about this problem is the pain; when it’s bad, it’s crippling enough to make the toughest person weep.
Learning to live with something that will never go away is difficult to deal with mentally. It’s something I’ve never had to experience. It didn’t help that my physician didn’t give me a complete description of my diagnosis, nor reassurance that I would be ok. It would have been helpful if he had told me this was fairly common, that it’s not a “disease” (but rather a condition), and that all people experience disc degeneration in the spine as they age (although with varying degrees of degeneration, most without pain).
As we age, water is lost from our spinal discs. The hard outside or “shell” of the disc weakens, which lets the water leak out. This ‘dehydration’ of the disc affects the stability of the spine, which causes pain. In addition, any disruption of normalcy to the spine or injury to the disc itself (including inflammation) will disrupt the nerves and muscles surrounding the affected area. That’s why we have pain, muscle spasms, and/or numbness and tingling.
I was surprised to learn that I had bone spurs on a few vertebrae. The doctor told me that this was a key symptom of DDD. When tissues are damaged or inflamed, sometimes bone spurs show up in nearby bones (since bones are always repairing themselves). Doctors believe these bone spurs grow over time to compensate for the smaller disc space, to help stop excess spinal motion, and to help the spine stabilize itself properly, now with a thinner disc.
If you’ve recently been diagnosed with DDD, know that you won’t be in pain forever. Despite being named “degenerative disc disease”, the “degeneration” does not progress, getting worse over time. In fact, I learned that pain from the thinned disc usually gets better over time because the spine learns to stabilize that affected area. Also, inflammatory proteins in the disc will eventually wear out and stop irritating the nerves. Relief is in sight!
After learning all of this, I look back on the day of my diagnosis and realize that I may have overreacted. However, in my defense, I knew nothing about DDD and didn’t understand my prognosis. I was expecting an easy fix and did not get the answer I was expecting.
So, for now, it’s stretching, PT, anti-inflammatory meds when necessary, staying active, bending over smartly, limiting my physical activity, and the occasional session on the inversion table. I did also purchase a new bed which I believe has helped; it’s much firmer and provides better support for my spine.
Learning to live with any health condition is a slow process. You have to learn to adapt your lifestyle around the problem and realize that you and your body do come first! After all, we only get one body.
Have you been diagnosed with degenerative disc disease? How did you handle it? I’d love to hear from you!
Happy Travels and Cheers to Your Health!
For a 2020 update on my degenerative disc disease, click here for the article.
Medical Disclaimer: The information on this site is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Information provided on this web site is for general information purposes only.
Lewis | 22nd Nov 17
I’m 34, and it was extremely hard to hear when diagnosed with DDD. I reacted the same way myself, thought I was permanently damaged, and took days/weeks of research to realize there was nothing permanent about it.
My orthopedic surgeon recommended a microdiscectomy for my L5-S1 bulging/ruptured/herniated/extruded disc (so many seemingly interchangeable terms!). It’s been 9 days since my surgery, and my leg and foot symptoms are at least 90% better. The wound from surgery is the only real source of pain, and it’s steadily decreasing everyday.
I was in the hospital a total of 9 hours. Walked in at 9:00 am, and walked out at 6:00 pm (I was a little frustrated because I felt well enough to walk out by 2:00pm).
Even the morning of surgery, I was still having doubts that I was doing the right thing. By the evening after the procedure, all I felt was relief, and finally knew I’d made the right choice.
By day 6, I was able to walk a mile and a half fairly easily, and can also spend several hours a day on my feet.
Hoping to get back on the inversion table as soon as the surgeon clears me, I suspect it can still be a valuable part of the recovery process for the month or two I have left till being ‘good as new’. And I hope it can help prevent future disc problems too.
I wish you luck, and hope you find the best option for your full recovery from this awful condition. I highly recommend the microdiscectomy if the physical therapy route doesn’t give you enough relief. Thanks for sharing your experiences!
Julie | 22nd Nov 17
Thank you so much for sharing your story! It’s comforting to know I’m not alone. 🙂 I’m so glad to hear that you’re already SO much better! That’s amazing to hear. Fortunately, I am progressing pretty well, and I do my best to not irritate or aggravate the condition, but that’s not always possible. I’m happy to know that there is a common procedure (and day surgery too!) that can help, if I ever get to that point. I appreciate you leaving your comments! Best of luck on your continued recovery. 🙂
Tam | 8th Feb 18
As I started reading your symptoms and story, I first thought, “are you me?!” I’m recently 40 and an MRI showed an L5-S1 central disc protrusion. I’ve been struggling with managing the pain despite going through PT and seeing a physiatrist and even a pelvic specialist. No one has mentioned DDD to me yet, but I’m going to ask about perhaps seeing an orthopedic surgeon. I’ve been dealing with this for about 1 1/2 years now and I’d just like to get to the point where I can sit without pain. Anyway, your blog made me feel less “alone” in terms of goofy back issues and got me thinking I should keep asking questions and keep trying to find answers and relief. I wish you all the best with your recovery. Please continue to update on your progress!
Julie | 8th Feb 18
Seeing an orthopedic doctor is probably a good idea. That’s who I saw, and I only got an x-ray. He was so sure on the diagnosis, no MRI was necessary. Thank you for sharing your story. Living with back pain is a never ending struggle. Every move you make, you have to be careful about your back or you’ll make it worse and take yourself back months of progress. I’ve continued to be more aware of my posture, I try to stand more instead of sitting while at the computer, I use my inversion table, got a more supportive bed, and try to stay fit. If the pain ever gets bad again I’ll likely have to go back to the doctor to see what surgical options are available. Living in pain is no way to live. Good luck on your journey and update me on your progress!! 🙂
Teresa Tanin | 31st Mar 18
I too was shocked—no real help from anyone—not Doc or PT. Told it was just something I had to live with—injury to L5-S1 and degenerate symptoms BUT w/o leg issues is was as if my pain was just not with their time. MRI showed such but MRI’s do not show nerve getting touched while moving as you can not move—-so without viewing nerves being touched Dic was not sympathetic to my constant pain from always a 2 to as much as 10 when my back locks up and I can not move. The “go do your core exercises, take Advil, and live with it” was the response. I am sad from not getting real answers and no recognition of my chronic pain. A friend recommended going to a neurologist. I appreciate your stories and now realize most Doctors just don’t get it.
Julie | 31st Mar 18
Funny that you got the “do your core exercises and take Advil” speech. Sounds so familiar! No attempts to alleviate the pain or control it. Very frustrating! It’s definitely something I’ve just learned to live with, minimizing bending over and lifting with my back. I hope this will be enough to prevent any kind of surgery. I feel like with back problems, the only real answer is surgery. Thanks for sharing your story with us! Best of luck to you and here’s hoping for pain free days! 🙂
Rich Hunt | 4th Apr 18
Have you considered doing non surgical spinal decompression with a chiropractor? I too had a thin line of a disc at l5 / s1 and now my disc has thickened up and come back to life
Julie | 4th Apr 18
No, I haven’t looked into non surgical spinal decompression but I will. Thanks for sharing this with us. I’m glad it worked for you!! 🙂
Rich Hunt | 4th Apr 18
They do an updated x Ray every 3 months and it shows the disc height continuing to improve. Most doctors won’t tell you but discs DO regenerate. Look up Dr Bergman on YouTube
Jack | 17th Jul 18
I think surgery is gonna fix it. C456 ddd and herniation with ridicular symptoms in chest, arms , no grip strength groin problems after 30 mins a physical activity.Best thing is excercise i recommend light weights more reps, then change heavy weights low reps…
Julie | 17th Jul 18
Ouch, cervical spinal issues are a delicate matter. So sorry to read about your problems, but thanks for sharing with us. I hope surgery can fix your DDD and herniation. Stay strong and best of luck!
Sheldon Marlowe | 24th Sep 18
Thanks for the article Julie, very much felt like reading my scenario. 39yr old male surfer, hurt my back 10yrs ago in the surf but got through the pain. 2yrs ago i stopped surfing daily and put on about 15kgs but also lost that flexibility and day to day stretching regime. Then 2mths ago started feeling stiff and unable to bend properly to a point where putting my socks on was a struggle. Started feeling like my back was going to go out and a sharp pain in my lower back, saw a chiro and she adjusted me 3 times until i insisted on an xray. Found out yesterday and even i could see from the xray my L5 S1 was virtually not there…..definitely brought me to tears as I’m no stranger to pain but felt like surfing was being taken away from me. Emotionally i feel wrecked because Ive always prided myself on being flexible and fit….pretty daunting knowing where to head from here but i guess i’m thinking yoga and an osteopath? The chiro wants me to have an MRI but reading into it, my scenario sounds like a given and should get on with anti-inflammatories and a regime that will help me feel normal again.
Thanks again! It helps to find sources of peoples experience that is truthful
Julie | 25th Sep 18
Thank you for sharing your story. I can definitely understand your frustration and sadness.
Since being diagnosed over a year ago, I find myself experiencing flare ups from time to time. I’ll overdo it in the garden, weight lifting, doing home improvement, etc and will be in pain for about a week. I have to ALWAYS think about my back, sense how I’m feeling each day, and rest when things are starting to hurt again. I still exercise regularly and make a point to do yoga, stretching, and use the inversion table when I can. Self care is my only treatment. Of course, each person is different and has to do what’s best for himself/herself. If I ever get to a point where my pain is severe and doesn’t subside I will most likely see a spine specialist, but for now, I’m satisfied with how I deal with it.
Best of luck to you! I hope you can get back on that surfboard soon! 🙂
Julie | 1st Nov 18
Thanks for leaving your story! I am 43 and started experiencing increasing back pain throughout this year. Finally got a back xray and it turns out I have scoliosis (knew that one), kephosis (slight curve) and diffuse DDD. Ugh. Been doing PT but haven’t felt a real difference in pain yet. Reluctant to take anti-inflammatories too much because work in a dialysis unit and see what those NSAIDs do to people’s kidneys — eek. Don’t want to give up my active lifestyle either… hiking is my love so hoping this is possible with it. For me, its going to have to be somehow learning to live with the pain (oy) and hoping to keep hiking as a mainstay. Sigh. I thought I was a bit young for this too and am wondering where I went wrong. Glad to hear that you are managing it somehow and the pain can get better!
Julie | 1st Nov 18
Thanks for sharing! “Managing” is a good word for it! I have my good days and bad – the bad being days I work in the yard all day or spend too much time standing or bending over. After a couple of easy days, my back gets better and goes back to the standard level of discomfort until I push myself too hard again.
I definitely recommend staying active. I try to do yoga once a week to keep the spine limber, even though I can’t do yoga as well as I once could. I think it’s normal for people to try and figure out what they did wrong or how they developed this, but I would simply imagine that there are certain body types along with genetics that cause this. It’s incredibly frustrating to have to deal with back issues in the early 40’s, but it’s so important to take care of your spine!
Best of luck to you and thanks for reading!
Julie | 1st Nov 18
Thanks for the reply, Julie! I know, its amazing how what you end up having to deal with medically is so different than what you anticipate! Do you ever have any totally pain-free days or periods? I had also read that eventually hopefully the inflammatory proteins will burn out, perhaps creating less pain? I am really hoping this is true… If you ever need an offline person to email about DDD with, I am available! New to the “journey” so to speak and definitely looking for fellow DDDers to share tips with;)
Julie | 2nd Nov 18
Yeah, being physically active and trying to eat healthy, I never would’ve expected back pain. Yes I do have pain free days but they are few. Most days there is always something back there that hurts- usually muscle strain. I got a Sleep Number mattress, ditching my old conventional one, and I keep it on the highest level of firmness. That has helped with the pain. And I try to lie down flat on my stomach (while online or reading) for an hour a day. I only do inversion about once a week but I should do it more. Yes, feel free to email me at EscapingtheMidwest@gmail.com anytime! It’s always nice to have someone to talk to about it. 🙂
TAJUDDIN | 2nd Nov 18
I have same problem, my doctor suggested for X-ray and report said narrowing of L5-s1 disk with muscle spasm for MRI LSS, guys will you please suggest do any buddy have the same issue, and how did you overcome with that???
Julie | 2nd Nov 18
My doctor never said anything about LSS and he didn’t think I needed an MRI. I would definitely recommend getting the tests the doctor wants in order to accurately diagnose you and plot a course of treatment. If there has been anything I’ve learned from this journey, it’s that you don’t mess around with your back. EVERYTHING you do involves it and it’s important to make sure you have all the information, diagnoses, and treatment information you need to get better. Best of luck and keep us posted! 🙂
Vandana | 9th Dec 18
I think you should try other maximum options rather than surgery.its more complicated if surgery is not successful as in mine case.i have same problem and it was becoming worse so dr.advise me Surgery but after 6months when I again x-ray and MRI I was shocked to know the problem was still there.
Julie | 9th Dec 18
Oh wow. Thanks for letting us know that the surgery is not always successful. I am doing everything I can to avoid it! Best of luck to you with your spine issues. 🙂
Heidi Schlehlein | 2nd Jan 19
I was diagnosed with DDD at 34- with no known cause, no trauma, just bad luck, they said. It’s at my L4/L5, and has gotten worse over the past two years. After my most recent MRI I got tested for Ankylosing Spondilitis, but ruled that out. I was given oral steroids for 6 days and those helped a lot, I don’t see much relief from anti-inflammatories. PT, stretching in the morning and night, help, but I’ve decreased most of my normal activity (will i ever be able to run again???) and have put on 15 pounds. It’s hard to deal with! Still trying to figure out what activities I can do without pain. It’s nice to stumble across this post and read about other young sufferers. No one really understands how much it affects your life- I definitely “get” needing to think about my back a whole lot more. Thinking about getting steroid injections in my back, if it gets much worse.
Julie | 3rd Jan 19
Thanks for reading and commenting. 🙂 Living normally, without back pain, is truly something that I took for granted for 35+ years. Once diagnosed, you have to rethink everything – how you lift, how you sit, how you stand, etc. Exercise is limited and pain is a frequent occurrence. It is just the hand we’ve been dealt and we’re forced to adapt. I hope your course of treatment bodes well for you. Best of luck!
Brandon | 19th Jan 19
Hi Juli! After hearing your story I wanted to share mine too.
I’m 24 and I’ve been been suffering with lower back pain for about 4 years now due to a weightlifting accident. Was just diagnosed with degenerated disc disease last month but suspect I’ve had it for quite awhile maybe 2 years or 3 years. Diagnosed with ddd when I went to my doctor’s office because I was having major pain just standing, walking, and trying to sleep. I’m still confused and scared why this happened to me but at the same time I’m learning to accept it and learning how to live with it. It’s definitely a scary thing after learning and researching what it is, after doing research about it and learning this disease has no cure it adds even more fear. I have stage 2 ddd in my l1/l2 disc and my l5/s1 is beggining to degenerate. Also my pelvis is tilted slightly which cause a mis alignment in my spine. Which is funny because we found this out via X-ray and not MRI, the mri on my lumbar and thoracic spine didn’t show any abnormally based on the report except that I had slight protrusions at L4/L5 and L5/s1 without spinal canal or neural foraminal stenosis. I’ve been going to a chiropractor for about 3 weeks now and my treatment (note to anyone reading it’s a treatment to alleviate pain not a cure because as of right now there’s really no way to restore the lost disc heights.) is adjustments to my spine to realign it, cold lasers, and spinal decompression. I of course have to do some specific stretching at home but I’m glad to say the pain has significantly lessen vs the last few years of back pain I had. I used to not be able to sleep without feeling measurable pain unless I was sleeping in a specific posture which was sleeping on my right side, stretching my arm on the bed all the way out and crossing my left leg over my right leg which is on the bed. But now after a few chiropractor sessions I can sleep normally which is a big win in my book because sleeping is supposed to be relaxing not painful. Although I do still have pain in my lower back it’s definitely not as painful as before and my quality of life has improved compare to the last two years. I can walk longer and and although the pain is still there it isn’t as irritating or painful as before. I can’t say chiropractor care will work for everyone but it’s help lessen the pain for me and ever since the first session I haven’t had to take pain killers everyday only maybe once a week now, but I feel like the real work is being done with the spinal decompression thearapy as the helps nutrients get into the discs between the vertebrae. I don’t want to get surgery as I know quite a few people who have gotten surgery (spinal fusion) for ddd and they are in worse shape then before and all advise me not get surgery as it’s too invasive and will lead to future problems later down the road. I don’t know if chiropractor care is a long term or short term thing but after my treatment they said I am to go in 2 times a month to get adjusted so the pain stays at bay which I’m fine with because the current state I’m in is better then the last few years of lower back pain I’ve had and I still have 3 more weeks of treatment from the chiropractor so I’m hoping to get a little bit better. (Also another note to anyone reading, keep in mind that for any treatment you seek you should keep a realistic outcome, because I think Jay Garrick shows it best in The Flash season 3 where he breaks the coffee cup and puts the broken part back on and I think says “no matter how hard you try to fix it, there’s always going to be that crack.” Which could be said about ddd. No matter how hard we try to treat it it will never go back to 100%.)
I’m also thinking of going to try stem cell therapy from Docere Clinics too after doing a bit of research on stem cells from bone marrow/fat and listening to a bunch of pod cast and watching videos from Dr. Adelson I’m quite intrigued with this. I want to get in contact from some of his patients to see how things are for them now after going through the stem cell treatment for their DDD before I make any decisions but as of right now chiropractor care seems to be working.
Even though I’m still confused and scared what helps me the most through this time is definitely being surrounded by my family and friends. When I hang out with my friends I make sure to do the only activities I know my back can handle otherwise If they’re doing activities I know my back can’t handle like bowling I just sit and being in their presence and conversating is enough for me to have a good time. My mom and brothers are the best as my mom always keeps me positive on my condition and my brothers are just great company to be around!
I used to live a really active life style with working out, running, and going hiking now I learned to accept this disease and know that things will never be the same and so with that comes changing my lifestyle. No more over eating as I need to lose weight to lessen the load on my back, NO MORE RUNNING as the impact taxes the disc in the spine by a lot. ( this is truly the hardest thing I needed to let go of as I loved running ever since I was in middle school), stretching everyday, and basically changing anything in my lifestyle that can throw my back out of commission. My chiropractor said I can still weight lift but I have to do the right exercises so my back won’t go out which he’ll show me once my treatment is finished.
Honestly I’m looking at my future with a real smile on my face because life is just full of possibilities and I know even though there are things I can’t do anymore I want to enjoy life to the fullest extent I can! There’s also an amazing quote from the movie Jet Li’s Fearless that I remind myself of everyday, “One cannot choose how one’s life begins, but one can choose to face the end with courage.”
Julie | 19th Jan 19
Thanks so much Brandon for sharing your story! We definitely have similarities in our journeys. You’ve made excellent points regarding regular chiropractic care, adapting your active lifestyle to a ‘new normal,’ getting emotional care from family and friends, and managing pain. Your positive outlook, despite the diagnosis, is encouraging and inspiring! Best of luck to you as you continue to lessen your pain with chiropractic treatments and research possible future treatments with stem cells. Keep us updated on your progress! 🙂
Lynda Jao | 11th Feb 19
Thank you so much for sharing! I found your blog post by Googling “degenerative disc disease support group” because I have not been able to process emotionally everything that has happened in the past week, which is getting diagnosed with DDD at 34. MRI shows degeneration between L4/L5 (I have an extra lumbar vertebrae so they didn’t know what to label it) with inflammation and Schmorl’s nodes and spurs. Likely cause was a fall I had 2 years ago and the pain has never gone to 0 since then and has stayed between a 3 and 9. The good news is that my nerves are in tact, which meant that the spinal surgeon recommended against surgery.
I experienced the same frustrations as you – I felt like no one understand or was willing to address the pain that I face daily. No one was willing to talk to me about options other than “dealing with it”. I have a constant rotation of chiro, PT, acupuncture, massage, along with using a lot of CBD. I do not have children, however, the idea that I may not be able to have them for fear of making my pain so bad I wouldn’t even be able to care for them is heartbreaking. And again as you say, I am coming to terms with what can I cannot do. I no longer run or hike long distances (things I used to enjoy). I now swim once a week and climb at the bouldering gym (even this is a stretch, but I do it because I need to).
I have decided to sign up to get my first cortisol shot. My doctor mentioned that shot itself would also be diagnostic. It’s also a good way to see how soon I will need surgery down the line, which would likely be fusion.
What other sources have you used to read up about the condition? I’d love to learn more and more as I dig myself out of my wallowing!
Julie | 12th Feb 19
Hi Lynda, thanks for reading and for commenting. I’m happy to hear that despite your past fall and diagnosis, that your nerves are intact! This sh*t gets real when you realize that your back pain could lead to sciatica, numbness, and a whole host of other sensory problems, and it’s not simply a “bone” problem.
It seems like the only people that know about DDD are those that are suffering from it, diagnosing it, or treating it. It’s not something that is commonly discussed, which is why I decided to write about it. Being diagnosed with a lifelong condition at a young age and with something that can cause so much pain, is heartbreaking, emotionally draining, and scary. You live while suffering in silence, crippled with back pain and uncomfortable in every position. I completely empathize with you!
Good luck with the cortisol shot! I hope it can bring you much needed relief. To be honest, I haven’t really researched much more about DDD since writing the blog post. Most of what I’ve read came from the internet. I’ve looked back at my nursing school books and all I can study there is the anatomy of the spine – not much there on DDD. I would guess your best resources would be your doctor, chiropractor, PT, and massage therapists since they probably see this all the time and know different ways to help.
Don’t beat yourself up with what you can’t do. We got dealt a crappy card and now we have to live the best way we can, despite the condition. Best of luck to you and keep us updated on your progress! 🙂
natalie | 20th Mar 19
Hi I’m Natalie 49 I was just diagnosed with DDD with borne spores on my pelvic bone.This is going on for 6 years getting worse every month !
So not sure about getting better over time so far it’s getting only worse.
I only got x-rays but probably need MRI to get a better picture of what exactly is going on.
I’ll hope to get relief at some point.
Julie | 20th Mar 19
Thanks for sharing your story. If your pain is getting worse, it’s probably best to look into this further with your doctor. I hope you can get some relief. Best of luck! 🙂
Jeff | 24th Mar 19
Nice post. At 46, I discovered similar problems as described, including the L1-5 and L5-S1, as well severe foraminal stenosis after recovering from surgery for a torn labrum in my hip. I quit tennis after recovery from the hip surgery and the news that my back had worsened from a four years previous MRI. I know everyone is different, but Pilates both mat and reformer style three days a week with alternate days spinning has made a remarkable improvement in my low back flexibility and overall low pain level, except for the foraminal stenosis; with that I get pain when I sneeze. However, I’ve noticed that is greatly lessened with regular oblique exercises added on to the Pilates. Always check with your doc/PT but I’ve been really pleased with the well trained (and informed of my condition) instructors. Hope it helps.
Julie | 25th Mar 19
Thanks for sharing that information. I’m glad you’ve had success with pilates! Maybe others can find relief with it as well. Best of luck! 🙂
Franklin | 6th May 19
Hi Julie, reading your post was surreal. I’m 55, and I was recently diagnose with DDD on my L5-S1. My story is very similar to yours, specially about the way doctors treated me. My primary doctor just told me my back was a mess. I went to see 2 neurosurgeon who really did not explain the condition. One simply suggested pain management, the other one offered surgery. I’ve been to chiropractors in the past and that’s never helped. I used the inverted table treatment, but did not help much either. Out of desperation I scheduled surgery for later this month, but after reading more about the condition, I most likely cancel it, and get another opinion. I really thought to be a deteriorating condition that would get worse with time, but the opposite seems to be the case. I understand now more as to why I get spasms, and the irritation on my nerves due to the disk proteins so I think I can live with the pain until it gets better. I also read that most people with DDD get better by age 60, so I’m close. Thanks for posting your experience. I know it has helped me. I hope you’re feeling better.
Julie | 6th May 19
Thanks for sharing your story too! Walking out of that doctor’s office was one of the worst feelings in my life – I was alone, scared, and felt like doctors only cared about treating me with surgery or shots. I applaud you for getting a second opinion!
I’ve read others’ stories that have revealed no improvement, despite having surgery. Everyone wants a quick fix and some doctors are willing to give just that – “I’ll give you the surgery you want and let’s hope it’s better.” Not only is the surgery risky, considering where it’s at, but you’ll be bed-bound and house-bound for weeks, and there are never any guarantees.
A second or third opinion is a wise idea. If your pain worsens and doctors strongly suggest surgery, then perhaps that IS the best option for you. However, because it is such a major procedure, seeing more than one doctor is a must. Best of luck to you!
Mario | 6th May 19
I was diagnosed with DDD last year. I actually did not have pain although I always remember having a bad back during the last 30 years, always niggling away but I got used to it. I lost sensation in my left toe (peripheral neuropathy) tingling/prickly/burning feet, sometime pins and needles in left foot.
Had x-rays and MRI’s confirming virtually no space between L4 and L5 and scoliosis in my back. I know now that inflammation is a big problem and I changed my diet to fruit/vegetables avoiding inflammatory foods such as sugar, white flour, processed foods etc. Best thing for me was using THC to reduce inflammation and that works almost best than anything else. As soon as I vape it, symptoms go away.
I got inversion boots and I hang upside down all the time. I also got a harness I use to hang horizontally. I use both methods.
I stopped work to reduce stress for two years now which has helped to reduce inflammation.
I had another X-ray done last week and it appears to me that my condition may have stabilized and there maybe even some increased disk space between L4/L5 now but I am bias when I look at the x-rays:-) because I want to see a change I guess.
I have been doing these inversions/decompression’s for 12 months, about 6-8 five minute sessions a day, sometimes more and longer and I have regained almost all of my sensations in my left toe, still a little bit numb in the center but a can feel my toe a lot better now. This took a whole year of dedicated work for me.
I looked into Stem-cell treatment but I decided to wait now. My doctor tells me that there is nothing else I can do than what I am already doing. Surgeons have told me that they would not recommend surgery.
So what do I do next I wonder? My condition has become my life priority for me and I am determined to find a solution to my problem.
Julie | 7th May 19
Thanks for sharing your journey with DDD. I’m happy to hear that you’ve stabilized and that the inversion has helped! Best of luck to you. 🙂
Lori | 16th May 19
I could’ve almost written this post myself! I too have DDD with bone spurs and spondylosis. It sucks! It does get better but the pain can also be brought on by the weather, sleeping wrong or putting on my seat belt! I have 2 small children and hate when my pain comes! I’ve found that KT or Rocktape works wonders! Have you tries it? Antiinflammatories do nothing for me! Yoga helps a lot! Chiro can make it worse! PT is fine but I don’t have the time to see a chiro as often as I need to! Thanks for your article! How long to you stay on the inversion table? I need to get one!
Julie | 16th May 19
Hi Lori, thanks for reading! I can’t imagine having this pain while having two small children to pick up, play with, etc. It must be difficult for you at times. I haven’t tried the tape, but I’ll look into it. Inversion experts say to start inverting with small increments of time and work up to about 15 minutes of inversion. I think 20 min was max for me. Some days it’s just difficult to get comfortable being upside down. (of course, I always try to go fully upside down though) Everyday is a struggle. Some days are good and others are painful. However, it’s just nice to know that there are others out there that know what you’re dealing with on a daily basis. Here’s wishing us less painful days ahead! Best of luck to you!!
Joyce | 20th May 19
My physio thinks it’s a herniated disc. The x-ray ppl says it’s mild degeneration of the disc. My GP reckons it’s an inflammation of the nerve. Antiinflammatories and being careful with standing sitting bending and exercise.. tingling still persists. Told me to wait 6 weeks and see if it goes away. Otherwise, MRI.
Julie | 21st May 19
Three different theories? Wow. I would also recommend the MRI if you continue to experience pain and tingling. You should know for sure what’s going on if this continues to persist. Best of luck to you. I hope you get a solid diagnosis! 🙂
Monica | 10th Jun 19
I was 15 when I was diagnosed with DDD. I am now 32 and still dealing with it. When I was diagnosed as a teen, the doctor saw the MRI results and walked in. He then confused my mother with being the patient. When he realized the MRI he saw was my back, his response was “girl, you have to body of a 50 year old woman! What did you do as a child?!”
I’ve had a million epidurals that just are painful and costly with not even 2 minutes of pain relief. I’ve done everything I can think of to “fix” it, but am getting very frustrated. Mine has been progressively getting worse, but I have always been told not to do surgery yet, mostly because of my age.
I wish everyone the best of luck!
Julie | 11th Jun 19
Wow, that is young! I can’t imagine having that diagnosis as a 15 year old. I hope your doctor is helping you with meds as the pain worsens. Let us know if you ever find some permanent relief. Best of luck to you!
Bharathi | 28th Aug 19
Iam 39 years old and i have also L5S1 extrusion problem can i will be able normal with regular diet and excercise . I had my mri just one week back iam so much worried about hearing this plz give me a reply
Julie | 28th Aug 19
Sorry to hear about your back issues. Yes, you can lead a normal, healthy life but you have to be careful with what activities you do, how often you rest, and remember to see your doctor. I still do gardening and exercising and have pain from time to time, but my pain is manageable. The best advice you can get is from your doctor. Best of luck to you!
Netra | 6th Sep 19
I’ve been dealing with symptoms since I was 18 years old and after years of ER visits at 27 I was finally diagnosed with DDD. L3,4,5 and S1. I’ve done disco grams, epidural injections, methylene blue injections and now its on to PT and weight loss. I have multiple herniated discs with bone spurs and while I’m usually alright a flare up is crippling. Breathing hurts, I can’t even wipe myself after using the bathroom during a bad flare up. Because I have state run insurance I’m limited in what treatment I can seek and in what order I can seek it in. I have not been treated in many years due to lack of insurance and since that is the case I am being made to go back thorough all of the therapies that have stopped working for me in the past, to give evidence that I need to be treated in a different way. It’s frustrating because they have all the old MRI’s and xrays and medical records but I have to start from the beginning so my insurance will cover it. I am 40 years old meaning its been 22 years since my first flare up, 13 years since I was officially diagnosed and I am no closer today to a solution to this issue that I was on day 1.
Julie | 6th Sep 19
Wow. My heart goes out to you. I can’t imagine being diagnosed at 27 with a degenerative spine. And with so many treatments under your belt, you never found real relief? The insurance part of your story just adds more salt to the wound since you have to go through all of the old treatments again when they didn’t help. DDD can truly be a crippling condition and many people do not understand that. I do believe that any significant weight loss can help ease the strain on the back and physical therapy can also be very beneficial. Stretching, inversion, chiropractic care, and maintaining core strength can also help, but this may only be beneficial in the earlier stages.
I sincerely hope you can find an empathetic doctor who will listen to your pain and your struggles, and find you some real pain relief. Best of luck to you and keep us informed on your progress! 🙂
Anna | 6th Sep 19
I’ve also been dealing with symptoms from around 15 years old and was finally diagnosed with severe DDD and bone spurs at age 22. Went through 3 MRI’s, seen specialists just to have my house doctor confirm DDD with an X-ray. He said my spine looked like one of a 60-year old! I’m quite the nature lover and love horseback riding, also rode competitively. When diagnosed, the doctor told me that I may never ride again and and that stage was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to deal with. Now at 25 I’ve made peace with the fact that this condition is something I will learn to manage and live with. Long walks, Stretching and chiropractor helps occasionally.
Thanks for sharing your story.
Julie | 7th Sep 19
Thanks for reading and commenting Anna. Was it the horseback riding that affected your spine? It must have been heartbreaking to stop doing what you loved. That could not have been easy. I guess some of us just don’t have spines that can put up with our daily routines. It’s so unfair, but I would much rather keep my spine intact for decades to come than have it become a debilitating condition. Best of luck to you! I wish you many, many years of good spinal health!
Kelly | 6th Sep 19
Thank you for writing this! Thank you for saying it’s not a disease! I’m 32 and recently had an MRI my lower back. I was in a car accident in early June and was still having back pain, left knee pain, and pain in my left thigh. Dr basically blew me off and sent me to a physical therapist to shut me up. It was there that the therapist said it’s probably just a soft tissue problem but wouldve been to have an MRI or XRAY. Put in a request, had it done, and got the results via patient portal.
“Mild early intervertebral disc desiccation particularly at L5-S1 with diffuse bulging disc. Minimal disc bulging also present at L3-L4 and L4-L5. No large focal disc herniation seen.
Mild facet arthropathy lower lumbar spine.
Changes result in minimal inferior neuroforaminal narrowing on the left at L4-L5.
1. MILD DEGENERATIVE DISC DISEASE WITH EARLY DISC DESICCATION AND DISC BULGING PARTICULARLY AT L5-S1.
2. ADDITIONAL MINIMAL DISC BULGING L3-L4 AND L4-L5.
3. ALONG WITH MILD FACET DEGENERATIVE CHANGE, THERE IS MINIMAL INFERIOR NEUROFORAMINAL NARROWING ON THE LEFT AT L4-L5. ”
I was relatively active before the accident and had no pain.. so then I read this and immediately thought I’ll never be active again.. it’s over! Which is hard to handle when you have a 7 year old and a 2 year old. So now I’m searching for ways to manage my pain and be active.
Julie | 7th Sep 19
Kelly, thanks for sharing your story. Know that you’re not alone! I’ve found that some of these doctors are there just to diagnose you and send you out the door with a “good luck, here’s your bill” kind of vibe. No discussion about our day to day lives, how we’re supposed to lift up our kids, carry groceries, or any other adaptations to life that are needed.
It’s definitely a shock to hear that you have DDD when so young. Just know that you can cope, but you’ll have to be kinder to your back and body. Find treatments that feel good and help, whether it be massage, physical therapy, chiropractic care, etc. During flare ups, dial back the physical activity and find time to stretch, rest, and find relief. Best of luck to you!
John | 24th Sep 19
Hi Julie, I’m the exact same, turned 42, was told I have DDD, Very painful some days and when it’s bad it lasts for at least 6 months, did you fine the inversion table any good? i’d love to hear about that as I’m thinking o buying one, awaiting your reply, thanks again, great post.
Julie | 24th Sep 19
To be honest, I don’t use the inversion table as much as I should. I do feel a good stretch through my spine when I use it and always feel a bit taller after laying on it. I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on mine since I wasn’t sure how much I’d use it – got one on Amazon for $100. I figured it was a small investment to make, even if it helps me a little. After all, it’s the cost of a doctor’s appointment! I hope this helps…Best of luck to you! 🙂
Morgan | 28th Sep 19
I am so glad I read your story and comments. I was only told I have DDD and prescribed an inflammatory. I received no other details and was told I had to just live with it. Your story and these comments have allowed me to believe there is hope and I have other resources that can help. Thank you so much! How often are you on the inversion table? I have been interested in those even before my DDD but once I found out I had the disease I put the inversion table out of my head.
Julie | 29th Sep 19
Thanks for reading and for your comments. It’s unfortunate that some doctors are not empathetic to the fact that we have this condition that cannot be reversed. I mean, I went to the doctor thinking I had some disc issue that could be fixed. I didn’t realize I’d be walking out of his office diagnosed with a permanent condition. It’s incredibly heartbreaking.
I’m only on the inversion table about once a week or so. I’m not very good about taking time to lay on it. (but I do feel stretched out and taller after using it!) But I make a point to lay flat on my stomach about an hour a day, especially when I’m experiencing a flare up. But despite doing things like gardening and cleaning and the regular daily things that irritate my back, I’m still doing everything I once did, just more conscientious about not making things worse. Let me know if you have any other questions.
Best of luck to you! 🙂
Sophie | 19th Oct 19
I have come across this post after searching for a support, it’s been about 5 months since being diagnosed with DDD and I do have a slipped disc.
I used to be a dancer up until I was 20 and found that when I went away to uni and lessened my exercise, that’s when things started to get worse. Being a dancer I was used to always having niggles and generally having muscle soreness most weeks, I never really differentiated the red flags.
The last few years I have obviously been aggravating my back unknowingly with running, high intensity gym classes and weight lifting, All the things at my age you think are only going to be good for you. If I had know earlier and not been dismissed as ‘too young for this’ I would have known how not to make it worse.
I was 27 when diagnosed but have experienced varying levels of sciatica for about 10 years before this. When having worse periods before the diagnosis, doctors have just sent me on my way with pain relief based on my young age. I had a niaive ‘i’ll be fine’ attitude so left it so long before realising I had a serious problem.
Earlier this year I had a couple of episodes, one in Feb before my friends hen do and one in April before the wedding where I experienced awful spasms and searing pain leaving me unable to walk properly for days and nearly not travelling to the wedding (I am stubborn and got there anyway, comoletely dosed up) Now I know it was the packing and lifting suitcases that had aggravated it.
After this I asked to be referred for an MRI scan as I knew I needed a diagnosis for people to take me seriously at this age. I wasn’t surprised that I have a slipped disc in my lower back pressing on my spinal cord.
To be honest, I am really struggling with this emotionally. It is really hard to accept that I can’t do all of the things I’ve always trusted my body to do. It’s demoralising at work asking for help with lifting anything. I am generally a lot better since I know how not to aggravate it, but I still find it hard that people can’t really see what’s wrong with you so always having to explain why I can’t do certain things. The weirdest thing is that when I have good days where everything’s feels fine, it just frustrates me even more that I can’t do it, that I’m fragile.
Anyway, trying to stay positive doing physio stretches, yoga, cycling and eating healthy to loose the little weight I have to loose. Hoping to gradually introduce weights again.
I am in the process of being referred to PT. I will see how that goes but may have to splash out on an osteopath if I don’t find PT helpful.
Has anyone used Amitriptyline for long/mid term pain relief? How did you find it?
Thanks for the post Julie, nice to read other people experiences and wishing you all best of luck with managing it 🙂
Julie | 19th Oct 19
Thanks for sharing your story with us Sophie. I agree with you, about others not knowing how fragile we can be on some days. I hate it when I can’t lift something for myself, just because I know it will aggravate my back! Best of luck to you in your continued wellness. You aren’t alone!! 🙂
Julia | 4th Dec 19
Loved reading all the encouragement, as I’ve recently found out similar info on my back. Many good ideas to try to alleviate the daily pain.
Julia | 4th Dec 19
Hard to digest such info at 41 years old…
Helps knowing others are in similar situations with positive outcomes and outlooks.
Julie | 4th Dec 19
I hope some of the information I presented was helpful! Thanks for your comments. 🙂
Lori | 28th Apr 20
Thank you so much for sharing this post years ago. I’ve been dealing with DDD for over 10 years and I’m 40 years old. Seeing and reading your post and all the comments people have posted made me feel less alone. I wish there were support groups for people with our condition! People don’t understand how I can be normal one day and completely immobile the next day and rendered useless for possibly a week simply because I bent down wrong to pick something up.
Julie | 28th Apr 20
I empathize with you. No one can really relate to our daily struggles and the accompanying pain.
I’m so glad that you found my post – know you’re not alone!
Best of luck with your DDD journey. 🙂
Mark | 12th May 21
Thanks for your post, and I feel your pain, quite literally. My issues started four years ago at the age of 56, with tingling toes on my left foot. The sensation also came with electric shocks and parasthesias in my left leg, frightening enough to seek my doctor’s advice. He suggested spinal stenosis, and waved off the gravity of the situation by saying ‘surgery can correct that.’ I’m now 60, and the condition now affects both feet and both legs up to the knee, with varying pain levels–some days okay, others crappy. I’ve tried the same things as other posters–chiropractors, inversion table, stretching, meditation, etc., trying like heck to stay away from drugs. Back extension exercises are about the only things that work, but they offer only temporary relief. I find herbs like white willow bark and meadowsweet have a modest effect against pain, and I’ll take an Advil when things get really bad. I’ve been to two neurosurgeons, one recommending surgery (‘don’t wait–it will only get worse’) and the other contradicting the first, saying the cause and solution are inconclusive. In other words, ‘you’re just going to have to live with it.’ They’re like ghouls. I declined a prescription for pain medication.
It’s a wretched condition, but I don’t intend for it to ruin my life. I can still walk and thankfully, hike. The pain actually goes away for a while when walking. Maybe that’s the solution–just walk for the rest of my life. Hopefully the condition will stabilize as it progresses, and the pain will go away some. I try to stay positive, but some days it’s really hard.
Julie | 13th May 21
Hi Mark, thanks for sharing. It’s most definitely a wretched condition! I admire your strong-willed attitude about not letting it ruin your life. I’m like you, as long as I can walk, hike, and do normal daily activities I’ll deal with it. Best of luck to you as your continue your journey of wellness!
Amanda | 29th Sep 21
I am 44 years old diagnosed with DDD about 2 years ago. I was a runner, hiker biker very active. This is a hard thing to deal with I have had spinal fusion for the two lower areas scheduled twice and cancelled. I have been trying to see if anyone has had Prp injections or Prolotheraphy injections and if you had any luck. I have done lots of Pt and no relief.
nouna | 3rd Jul 22
I have just learned of my diagnosis, like you I was shocked and inconsolable, I cried in front of my house with hot tears, I thought of the future and the risk of being paralyzed; I thought I became disabled knowing that I am a nurse how am I going to work now? thank you from the bottom of my heart for your article which reassured me,
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