What is it?
While changes in our boney anatomy throughout the lifespan are normal, in some cases close proximity of the joints of our spine can cause irritation to a variety of structures. Degenerative Disc Disease (or DDD) is a description for the decrease in hydration of the discs in our spine, which may increase the proximity of the bones within our joints. This proximity can often be interpreted as arthritis, which is the medical term for irritation and inflammation (itis) of a joint (arthro). Spacial narrowing within the areas where nerves normally travel through, either centrally where the spinal cord travels, or laterally where nerve roots exit to the rest of the body from the spinal cord, is known as stenosis. Often this three diagnoses are interrelated, and may contribute to your pain if progressed to a certain point.
As with most joints of the body, arthritis can often be treated by decreasing strain along a joint by increasing the stability and strength of active contractile tissues within the regions that support the joint. In this case, the musculature of the back and legs which support the pelvis and spine, is a key area of focus in order to improve this support if proximity of the tissues themselves is causing the affected irritation. If, as in the case of stenosis, the proximity of these tissues is causing nerve impingement, changes in posture can often provide a change in available travel space for the nerves, and retraining of posture may provide a great deal of alleviation.
Important Facts to Know
Diagnosis of these conditions has actually become significantly more complicated with newer research that shows that our ability to diagnosis via imaging like x-rays and MRI appears somewhat limited as asymptomatic “normal” spines present with very similar images to those experiencing this kind of pain, meaning that image findings of these conditions do not necessarily mean they are the cause of symptoms. A thorough physical exam including testing of neurological findings, functional stenosis testing like the two stage treadmill test, and thorough testing for postural endurance should be combined with a specific subjective screen before a diagnosis of these conditions is finalized.