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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    Could chronic back pain be degenerative disc disease?

    I suffer from chronic back pain and always thought it was because I am constantly sitting at work and suffered a fall a few months ago (and seldom exercise). Could it be a more serious condition such as degenerative disc disease?
  • Find a professional to answer your question

  • 4


    Dr Peter Dun


    Rehab - Sports - X-Ray - Standing MRI - Second Opinions. We provide strategies for chronic and more complex function problems to help restore active … View Profile

    It is certainly possible for chronic back pain to be related to degenerative disc disease, though the chronic pain could also be due to other structures and factors.  Of the low back structures, disc-related symptoms are considered to be more common than those associated with lumbar joints, muscles, ligaments and bones. 
    The typical locations for spinal discs to degenerate are in the lower back and lower neck regions.  However, just because disc degeneration is seen on diagnostic images – x-rays, MRI, CT scans – does not necessarily mean that this is the cause of a patient’s back discomfort.  Generally, disc-related pain only occurs if there is a bulge or herniation that touches adjacent pain sensitive structures outside the disc itself.  Though, in some cases of degenerative disc disease it is thought that chronic back pain can also result from pain sensitive nerves having grown into a damaged disc – as these nerves wouldn’t exist in a healthy disc.  Diagnostic imaging comprises just a piece of the puzzle in the overall patient assessment process, which is aimed at arriving at as accurate a diagnosis as possible.  Indeed, information gained from skilled history taking and physical examination of each patient can often provide more valuable information than that obtained from x-rays, MRIs, etc..  In the end, it is the whole of the case information that is most important so that a clinical care and advice strategy can be chosen that best matches the specific problem. 
    In this case, it is important to identify what, if any, damage occurred with the fall a few months ago as this may also influence the course of treatment/clinical advice.  Additionally, it is important to appreciate that it is quite difficult to pinpoint a patient’s actual source of pain. Thankfully, for many cases of chronic back pain, it has been found that of greater importance is the need to focus our efforts on identifying particular manual treatments and self-management (postures, movements, exercises, etc.) strategies that reduce a patient’s activity limitations, along with increasing their fitness – even when skilled health care practitioners can’t be sure which spine structure/s is the ‘culprit’.
    Whether your chronic back pain is due to degenerative disc disease or not, constant sitting at work and lack of exercise will not be helpful.  Researchers have shown many health benefits from an active rather than sedentary lifestyle, including back pain reduction. 

  • Neil Synnott

    Exercise Physiologist, Physiotherapist

    I am qualified as a PHYSIOTHERAPIST and ACCREDITED EXERCISE PHYSIOLOGIST.I primarily use the McKENZIE METHOD for assessment and management of musculoskeletal pain disorders. The McKENZIE … View Profile

    Dr Dun has answered this question very nicely!

    I would just like to reiterate Dr Dun's final paragraph… extended periods of sitting (at work, driving, home) and lack of exercise are all too common a story that I hear from people that are experiencing chronic low back pain…

    If you are unsure of where to start with improving your low back pain situation, please consult a trained health care professional - physiotherapist/ chiropractor/ osteopath

    Regards, Neil  

  • 1


    Dr Firas Hasan


    Dr. Firas is a chiropractor based in Adelaide who is passionate about the spine. His clinic offers a same day appointment and treatment guarantee. Dr. … View Profile

    Yes, disc degeneration can take place in any part of the spine and similar to tooth decay in that its progression is gradual and often without any symptoms. Decreased movement between the spinal vertebrae are one of the mechanisms that can cause or even speed up spinal degeneration. So have your spine assessed to prevent any degeneration. Even if you already have degeneration taking place, chiropractic treatment can help you slow it down or even manage it better.

  • Sandra McFaul


    Do you suffer from chronic lower back pain or neck pain? Based in SYDNEY, Sandra is 1 of ONLY 15 Physiotherapists in Australia with ADVANCED … View Profile

    Degenerative disc disease is wear and tear.  We get old on the outside and also the inside.  If your pain gets worse sitting…. then look at your sitting posture.  Sit straigher and work out if your pain gets better.  If it does, you have the answer. 

    Our bodies are meant to move, if you don't use it you lose it.  Try standing up and moving around for one mintue ever hour or so and see what affect it has on your pain. 

    Even if you have degenerative disc disease, you can't do anyting about it.  But you can change your sitting posture and the amount of exercise you do.  Focus on those things and if you need further help, seek out the care of a trained McKenzie Method Physiotherapist.  They can show you how to how to self-manage this chronic back pain of yours….

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