Managing Degenerative Disc Disease with Exercise

Degenerative Disc Disease

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Degenerative Disc Disease (DDD) is a condition that often results from the natural aging process of the spinal discs. It can cause significant discomfort and limit daily activities. However, exercise can play a crucial role in managing and alleviating the symptoms of DDD. Incorporating specific exercises into your routine can improve flexibility, strengthen the muscles supporting your spine, and reduce pain.

Degenerative Disc Disease typically involves the gradual deterioration of the discs, which act as cushions between the bones in your spine. While it’s often associated with aging, lifestyle factors can also contribute to its progression. Understanding how to manage it through exercise is key to maintaining a good quality of life despite this condition.

Symptoms of Degenerative Disc Disease

Living with Degenerative Disc Disease can mean experiencing a range of symptoms. These symptoms can vary significantly in intensity and impact daily life differently. Understanding these symptoms is crucial for recognizing and managing the condition effectively.


  • Chronic lower back or neck pain can vary from mild to severe.
  • Pain that worsens with certain activities like bending, lifting, or sitting.
  • Numbness or tingling in the limbs, indicating nerve involvement.
  • Muscle weakness, which may affect balance and coordination.
  • Reduced flexibility in the spine, making it harder to move or bend.

These symptoms often develop gradually and can fluctuate in intensity. Some people might experience sharp, acute pain episodes, while others may have a persistent dull ache.

Causes of Degenerative Disc Disease

Degenerative Disc Disease primarily stems from the natural aging process. As we age, the spinal discs, which act as cushions between the vertebrae, start to wear down and lose their flexibility and shock-absorbing capabilities.


  • The natural aging process leads to the drying out of spinal discs.
  • Daily activities and sports contribute to wear and tear.
  • Injuries that cause swelling, soreness, or instability in the spine.
  • Genetic factors that make some individuals more prone to disc degeneration.
  • Lifestyle factors such as smoking and obesity can accelerate disc wear.

Understanding these causes can help adopt a proactive approach to managing the condition. It’s about balancing activity and rest, ensuring the spine is not excessively strained. Regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, and adopting good posture habits are key to managing Degenerative Disc Disease.

Stretching for Degenerative Disc Disease

Stretching exercises can be particularly beneficial for relieving the discomfort associated with DDD. They help maintain spinal flexibility and reduce tension in the muscles surrounding the spine.

1. Knee to Chest

knee to chest stretch exercise to relieve Degenerative Disc Disease
knee to chest stretch step 2
  • Starting position: Laying on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the bed. This is a nice, decompressed position for the spine to begin in.
  • Reach the hands behind the thigh of one leg and slowly pull the leg so that your knee moves in towards the chest. Keep the intensity of the stretch gentle and the leg as relaxed as possible.
  • Hold for at least 30 seconds.
  • Repeat on the other side for a total of 3 sets.

2. Piriformis Stretch

Piriformis Stretch step 1
Piriformis Stretch step 2
  • Begin by lying on your back with both knees bent.
  • Cross your left leg over your right, then using both arms gently pull your left knee towards your right shoulder.
  • Hold for 30 seconds. Relax and repeat 3 sets on the each leg.

3. Seated Hamstring Stretch

Coach Todd demonstrating seated hamstring stretch to alleviate lower back and hip pain by increasing leg muscle flexibility
Coach Todd demonstrating seated hamstring stretch to alleviate lower back and hip pain by increasing leg muscle flexibility
  • Seated in a chair, place the leg to be stretched and extended in front of you (the knee should be straight).
  • Keeping a straight back, bend forward via hinging at the hips.
  • Once you feel a tolerable stretch behind the back of the leg, hold for at least 30 seconds.
  • Repeat for 3 sets in total.

Building Core Strength

Strengthening the core is vital in managing DDD. A strong core supports the spine, reducing the load on the discs.

1. Abdominal Brace

Abdominal Bracing
  • Begin on your back; knees bent, and feet flat on the floor. 
  • Exhale and draw your belly button towards your spine (as if a string was pulling on the inside of your belly button from the ground). 
  • Hold for 5 seconds before relaxing. 
  • Do this 10 times for one set, and complete 2 sets.

2. Pelvic Tilt

Performing seated pelvic tilts, an effective movement to stabilize and strengthen the lumbar region.
Seated Pelvic Tilts step 2
  • Sit upright in a chair with your shoulders relaxed. Take a deep inhale and expand your belly.
  • As you exhale, contract your abdominal muscles by pulling your belly button in towards your spine and flattening your low back against the chair.
  • Hold this position for 5 seconds and then slowly relax.
  • Perform 10 repetitions for a total of 3 sets.

3. Supine Marching

Marching core step 1
Marching core step 2
  • Starting position: Laying flat on your back (on your bed, couch, or floor), with your knees bent and feet flat on the surface.
  • To activate your transverse abdominis, try to pull the belly button down towards the surface, gently flattening the back simultaneously. This will help to brace the core.
  • While keeping this braced core (don’t forget to breathe!), lift one knee towards your chest, like a march, then lower back down to the surface.
  • Repeat 10 repetitions for 3 sets. Perform on the opposite leg.
  • You can perform all repetitions on one side, switch to the other or perform alternatingly between the legs.

4. Bent Knee Fallouts

Bent knee fallouts step 1
Bent knee fallouts step 2
  • Lie on your back with both knees bent and your hands on your hips.
  • Engage your core by bracing your muscles like a trampoline surface. It’s a subtle movement and shouldn’t feel like you’re pushing your core up or sucking your core in. Just a gentle brace as though someone was about to place a weight on your belly.
  • Keep your left knee frozen where it is, then let your right knee lower to the side 45 degrees and come back to the center. Keep your core engaged the whole time. You can monitor for control by using your hands on your hips. If your hip drops to the right side as the right leg moves, you’re not keeping your core engaged. The goal is for your hips to stay perfectly still while you perform this asymmetrical movement.
  • Perform sets on the right side, then repeat on the left.

Hip Strength Exercises

1. Bridge

Degenerative Disc Disease exercise called bridge performed by coach todd
Degenerative Disc Disease exercise called bridge performed by coach todd
  • Lie on the floor or bed with your legs bent and feet flat on the floor/bed. 
  • Gently squeeze your butt muscles to lift your hips off the ground, feeling a nice stretch in your front thigh and a contraction in the back of your thigh. 
  • Lower your hips back down to the starting position.
  • Repeat 10 times.

2. Clamshells

Clamshell step 1
Clamshell step 2
  • Start by paying on your side with both knees bent.
  • Keep your feet in contact with each other, and then rotate your top leg up. 
  • Make sure you keep your spine in alignment and your hips don’t rock back! Rule of thumb is to do a smaller range of motion if you think your back is moving.
  • Rotate your top leg back down to the starting position.
  • Do this 10 times for one set, and complete 3 sets.

3. Standing Hip Lifts

Coach Todd demonstrating standing hip lifts to aid in Degenerative Disc Disease recovery by strengthening hip muscles
Coach Todd demonstrating standing hip lifts to aid in Degenerative Disc Disease recovery by strengthening hip muscles
  • Stand tall with one hand placed on a bed or chair. Balance on your left leg, keeping a soft bend in your knee to keep from locking out.
  • Leading with your heel, lift your right leg out to the side. Be sure not to lean to the left. 
  • Repeat 10 times per leg.
  • Complete 3 sets of the exercise.

4. Standing Hip Extension

Instructional visual on the standing hip extension exercise, promoting better hip function.
Standing Hip Extension step 2
  • Stand tall with your hands placed on a steady surface. You can use a counter, sink, or chair (no chairs with wheels) to hold on to for balance. 
  • Shift your weight onto your left leg, keeping a soft bend in your left knee to keep it from locking out.
  • Then, keeping your toes pointed forward and your right leg straight, lift your right leg back a few inches, then lower back down.
  • Repeat 10 times per leg for 3 sets.

Strengthening the hips can also aid in managing DDD by ensuring better support for your lower back.

The Role of Walking

Walking is a gentle yet powerful tool in managing Degenerative Disc Disease. It’s a low-impact exercise that benefits the spine in several ways. Each step during a walk promotes a gentle motion in the spine, which helps nourish the spinal discs. This movement is crucial for spinal health, enhancing healing and recovery. Plus, walking doesn’t put undue pressure on the spine, making it a safe and adequate daily activity.

In addition to physical benefits, walking aids in weight management. A healthy weight is essential because it reduces the stress on the spine, lessening the symptoms of Degenerative Disc Disease. Regular walking also strengthens the muscles around the spine, particularly the core and lower back. This muscle strengthening is vital for providing better support to the spine, thereby reducing pain and improving posture.

Moreover, the benefits of walking extend beyond physical health. It’s a great stress reliever and mood booster, which is essential for overall well-being, especially when dealing with chronic pain conditions like Degenerative Disc Disease. Integrating walking into your daily routine is a simple yet effective way to care for your spine and enhance your quality of life.


Managing Degenerative Disc Disease with exercise is about consistency and finding the right balance of activities. Stretching, core strengthening, and hip exercises, along with regular walking, can make a significant difference in managing DDD symptoms. 

Remember, it’s essential to listen to your body and consult with healthcare professionals for personalized advice. You can lead a comfortable and active life despite DDD with the right approach.

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