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  • Running is one of those activities that people either love, or love to hate. Those who opt out of the sport have no understanding whatsoever of enthusiasts’ passion, and at the first mention of injuries, aches, or pains they are quick to offer enthusiastic unsolicited advice that is best summed up by “quit immediately.” This is particularly true when the runner is diagnosed with degenerative disc disease.

     

    Degenerative disc disease sounds incredibly scary, but it is not at all uncommon. In fact, it’s one of the top causes of neck pain and lower back pain. It describes the wear and tear that our discs endure as a result of aging and injury. It is a progressive condition that occurs in almost everybody’s disc, but not everybody experiences painful symptoms — and those who do have symptoms find that they come and go. The pain doesn’t come from the disc itself: Rather it comes from the surrounding structures including muscles, joints, and nerves that are affected by the disc’s breakdown. They either become inflamed as a result of protein from the disc leaking out and causing swelling, or irritated as a result of the diminished cushioning that the discs are meant to provide.  

     

    So what does this mean for runners? There’s no doubt that if you were used to running several miles a day every day of the week, your activities are likely to create a lot of pressure on structures that are already under stress. But rather than bowing to the non-running voices who are urging you to abandon running entirely, there’s a good chance that you can simply modify your activities to give your spine structures a much-needed break.

     

    At our New Jersey spine care practice, we encourage runners to cut back on both their distance and the number of times a week that they run. By mixing your running up with other, low-impact activities on alternating days you can not only give your back a rest, but even make it stronger and more flexible by choosing the right exercise options. We have found that runners who add a yoga or Pilates practice adds core strength and helps alleviate pain and make it less likely to return. Patients have found that swimming is both restorative and provides an excellent full body aerobic workout, and cycling and walking are also good options for your non-running days.

     

    In addition to moderating your running schedule, we also encourage runners who are experiencing back pain to make sure that they are eating well, getting enough sleep, and drinking plenty of water. Hydration is more important than you realize when it comes to disc pain.

     

    If you are concerned about your activity level or find that your pain is getting worse rather than better, there may be something else going on.  When you’re experiencing discomfort, it’s a good idea to make an appointment with the professionals at our New Jersey spine pain practice to see how we can help.

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