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  • Writer's pictureDaniel Welstead

A Practical Guide to Exercise for Degenerative Disc Disease

Disclaimer: I am a dedicated personal trainer passionate about health and fitness but not a medical professional. This blog post shares advice and information based on my experience and research. If you're dealing with degenerative disc disease or any other health condition, consult a healthcare professional before starting any new exercise regimen.

A Practical Guide to Exercise for Degenerative Disc Disease
Daniel Welstead 2014 Microdiscectomy Spinal Surgery

Since 2013, I've been living with degenerative disc disease. It's a condition that can cause a lot of discomfort and pain, but I've found that with the right approach to exercise, it's possible to manage the symptoms and continue to lead an active, fulfilling life.

In this post, I want to share some of the insights I've gained over the years. I'll focus on three exercise types that have benefited me: yoga, low-impact cardio, and strength training. I'll also discuss why certain exercises, like weighted squats and deadlifts, might be best avoided if you're dealing with this condition.


Yoga for Flexibility and Strength

A Practical Guide to Exercise for Degenerative Disc Disease
Daniel Welstead Yoga Frog and Puppy

Yoga has been a game-changer for me. The gentle, controlled movements help to increase flexibility and strength, both of which are crucial for supporting the spine and alleviating the symptoms of degenerative disc disease.


Yoga poses like the Cat-Cow stretch, and the Child's pose are particularly beneficial as they gently stretch and strengthen the back muscles. However, listening to your body and avoiding poses that cause discomfort or pain is essential.


Low-Impact Cardio for Overall Fitness

A Practical Guide to Exercise for Degenerative Disc Disease
Daniel Welstead 2023 Walking Thailand

Cardiovascular exercise is crucial for overall health and well-being. However, high-impact activities like running or jumping can put a lot of stress on the spine, exacerbating degenerative disc disease symptoms.


That's why I've found low-impact cardio exercises to be the best option. Activities like swimming, cycling (short periods), power walking, or using a step master machine can increase your heart rate without putting undue stress on your back.


Strength Training for Core Stability

A Practical Guide to Exercise for Degenerative Disc Disease
Daniel Welstead 2016

Strength training, particularly exercises that target the core muscles, can be incredibly beneficial for managing degenerative disc disease. A strong core provides better support for the spine, which can help to alleviate pain and discomfort.


Exercises like planks, knee tucks, and bridges are great options. However, it's important to perform these exercises with proper form to avoid putting unnecessary strain on your back.


Avoiding Weighted Squats and Deadlifts


While strength training is beneficial, certain exercises can do more harm than good. Weighted squats and deadlifts, for example, place a significant amount of pressure on the spine. This pressure can compress the discs in your back, exacerbating the symptoms of degenerative disc disease.


Instead of these exercises, consider alternatives that can strengthen your lower body without putting undue stress on your back. Leg presses, step-ups, and lunges are all great options.


Living with degenerative disc disease isn't easy, but with the right approach to exercise, it's possible to manage the symptoms and maintain an active lifestyle. Listening to your body and consulting with a healthcare professional before starting any new exercise regimen is crucial.


Stay strong, stay positive, and remember that every step you take towards better health is a victory.


10 FAQs about degenerative disk disease and exercise

  1. What is Degenerative Disc Disease? Degenerative disc disease is a condition where the discs between the vertebrae of the spinal column deteriorate or break down, leading to pain, weakness, or numbness.

  2. How Can Exercise Help with Degenerative Disc Disease? Exercise can help manage degenerative disc disease by strengthening the muscles that support the spine, improving flexibility, and promoting better posture. This can help to alleviate pain and discomfort.

  3. Which Exercises are Beneficial for Degenerative Disc Disease? Yoga, low-impact cardio, and strength training exercises that target the core muscles can be beneficial for managing degenerative disc disease. These exercises can help to strengthen the muscles that support the spine, improve flexibility, and promote better posture.

  4. Why Should I Avoid Weighted Squats and Deadlifts if I Have Degenerative Disc Disease? Weighted squats and deadlifts can put a significant amount of pressure on the spine, which can compress the discs and exacerbate the symptoms of degenerative disc disease.

  5. What are Some Alternative Exercises to Weighted Squats and Deadlifts? Leg presses, step-ups, and lunges are all great alternatives to weighted squats and deadlifts. These exercises can strengthen your lower body without putting undue stress on your back.

  6. Can Yoga Help with Degenerative Disc Disease? Yes, yoga can be beneficial for managing degenerative disc disease. The gentle, controlled movements of yoga can help to increase flexibility and strength, both of which are crucial for supporting the spine and alleviating symptoms.

  7. What Type of Cardio is Best for Degenerative Disc Disease? Low-impact cardio exercises, such as swimming, cycling, or using an elliptical machine, are best for those with degenerative disc disease. These activities can get your heart rate up without putting undue stress on your back.

  8. How Can Strength Training Help with Degenerative Disc Disease? Strength training, particularly exercises that target the core muscles, can help manage degenerative disc disease. A strong core provides better support for the spine, which can help to alleviate pain and discomfort.

  9. What Should I Remember When Exercising with Degenerative Disc Disease? Always listen to your body and avoid any exercises that cause discomfort or pain. It's also important to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new exercise regimen.

  10. Can I Maintain an Active Lifestyle with Degenerative Disc Disease? Yes, with the right approach to exercise, it's possible to manage the symptoms of degenerative disc disease and maintain an active lifestyle. However, it's crucial to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new exercise regimen.

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