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What I've Learned About Living With Degenerative Disc Disease

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I’ve been living with lower back pain for several years. It always worsened when I vacuumed, stood washing dishes, or when the temperature outside turned cold. It would get to the point where it was so bad that I’d have to sit down and wait until the spasms subsided, or I’d take a muscle relaxer to lessen the discomfort just so I could resume my household chores.

My PA ordered an MRI when I informed him that my back pain had gotten worse and I was hurting. Once he received the test results, he went over them with me so I could understand what I was dealing with.  The results stated that I have arthritis in the lower back and degenerative disc disease which shows an area of bone on bone in my spine. He went on to explain that as we get older, spinal discs begin to show wear and tear. They begin to break down and may not work as well.  Symptoms depend on where the weakened disc is and other changes it has caused. The most common signs include:

1.    Pain that is in the lower back, buttocks, or upper thighs.

2.    Pain that comes and goes. It can be mild or severe, and can last from a few days to a few months.

3.    Pain that feels worse when sitting and is better when moving and walking.

4.    Pain that feels worse when bending, lifting, or twisting.

5.    Pain that gets better when changing positions or lying down.

There were several options to treat my discomfort, such as steroid injections, surgery or physical therapy. I opted for rehab because I didn’t want to have any more surgery unless it was an emergency. I already had seven operations due to Crohn’s disease, and I wasn’t going down that road again.

I also wanted to find a support system for people who have this condition so I could ask questions and see if there were any other alternatives out there to treat the symptoms that were so bothersome to me.  I searched the web looking for a group that had meetings near where I lived. Unfortunately, nothing existed at all.  Then I remembered my close friend’s husband was dealing with chronic pain due to back issues. So I gave him a call and asked if he could offer some insight on living with degenerative disc disease because I honestly had no idea what I’d be dealing with as I got older.

He explained that he didn’t know he had it until he broke his back years ago.  Then he started to have a lot of discomfort when he was doing certain activities. It got to the point where he went to a pain management physician to see if he could get some relief. Even though it was aggravating at times for him, “A” stated that the support from his wife “M,” children, and grandchildren are what kept him going. His faith also sustained him on his worst days, especially when he felt like giving up.

He gave me excellent advice during our conversation. “Explore your options for treatment, and remember to focus on yourself. Do something that makes you happy. Start a new hobby that interests you, and use that to take your mind off your pain.” He also mentioned that when he has an almost good day, he teaches himself how to write music as well as record tunes on sophisticated software at home. He stressed to work closely with my physician to find a treatment that is right for me, even if it takes several attempts. Also, give it plenty of time to see if it will work.

Currently, he’s unable to sit and stand for long periods of time, plus he can’t walk much without his back hurting.  The physician gave him a few options to treat his extreme discomfort such as seeing a chiropractor to try and straighten out the spine without surgery or being prescribed physical therapy to help strengthen it and alleviate most of the discomfort.

I’m very appreciative of his knowledge, wisdom, and sage advice in dealing with the side effects that are associated with this disease. Even though he’s had this for a long time, he’s taught me that when life throws you a curveball, there are two choices — either run from it or face it head-on with faith, strength and determination.

Getty image by Pornpak Khunatorn.

Originally published: April 23, 2020
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