young male physical therapist helping male patient with back pain

Degenerative Disc Disease

Caused by natural aging or injury, degenerative disc disease (DDD) causes pain, stiffness, and limited function–all of which can be addressed with physical therapy.

Physical therapy for degenerative disc disease

The spine consists of soft compressible discs that separate your vertebrae. The discs act as shock absorbers for the spine, allowing it to flex, bend, and twist. Unfortunately, degenerative disc disease can occur with age or injury, most often occurring in the discs in the lower back (lumbar region) and the neck (cervical region) and causing pain, stiffness, loss of motion, and limited daily function.

Up to 85% of the population will show evidence of disc degeneration by age 50. A portion of these people will also develop back pain. You may notice back pain that radiates to the hips, aching while walking, and tingling or weakness in the legs or feet. Sitting, lifting, and twisting may increase symptoms. The majority of these cases can be resolved with physical therapy.

Causes of degenerative disc disease

As the body ages, the discs in the spine naturally dehydrate, so they can’t act as effectively as “shock absorbers.” In addition to natural aging, risk factors for degenerative disc disease include smoking, obesity, an inactive lifestyle, and heavy manual labor.

Activities such as lifting, shoveling, bending, or being in a motor vehicle accident can lead to disc injury.

female physical therapist helping older female patient with osteoporosis

Degenerative disc disease symptoms

Patients suffering from degenerative disc disease may experience the following symptoms:

  • Sharp pain in the back or neck
  • Pain that radiates to the hips
  • Aching or weak feeling while walking
  • Numbness or tingling in the legs or feet
male physical therapist helping older man with ankle and feet exercises

How we treat degenerative disc disease

Physical therapy for degenerative disc disease limits the pain and increases function. Your degenerative disc disease treatment may include:

  • Stretching and flexibility exercises to improve mobility
  • Strengthening the muscles of the spine and extremities
  • Pain control may consist of ice/heat, electrical stimulation, or possible use of traction
  • Manual therapy
  • Dry needling
  • Proper training in ergonomics and biomechanics to increase your activity levels
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What to expect

Your first physical therapy appointment is about creating a personalized treatment plan based on your health history, diagnosis, and goals. Here’s what you can expect at your first physical therapy appointment:

Your first appointment will last about an hour. Please arrive 15 minutes early.

If applicable, bring your physician referral or prescription, insurance card, paperwork, ID, and co-payment.

At your appointment, we’ll do an initial evaluation and discuss your care plan.

*Services are not available at every location. Visit our Locations page for more details.

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