“Simply put, degenerative disc disease refers to symptoms of back or neck pain caused by wear-and-tear on a spinal disc,” says Brian J. McHugh, MD. “In some cases, degenerative disc disease also causes weakness, numbness, and hot, shooting pains in the arms or legs (radicular pain). Degenerative disc disease typically consists of a low-level chronic pain with intermittent episodes of more severe pain.”
While they can happen in any area of your spine, McHugh says degenerative disc disease commonly happens in your neck (cervical spine) and lower back (lumbar spine). These areas of your spine undergo the most motion and stress, making them most susceptible to disc degeneration.
Your Spinal Cord: Your Backbone (Literally) for Overall HealthYour spine is made of 33 individual bones or vertebrae — some of which fuse, naturally, such as the bones making up the sacrum — stacked one on top of the other, that provides serious support for your entire body. Your spinal column helps you stand up, bend, twist, and otherwise move about.
Between each of those vertebrae is a disc, which separates and cushion your vertebrae so they don’t rub together.
“Discs are designed like a radial car tire,” says the Mayfield Clinic. “The outer ring, called the annulus, has criss-crossing fibrous bands, much like a tire tread. These bands attach between the bodies of each vertebra. Inside the disc is a gel-filled center called the nucleus, much like a tire tube.”
A healthy, well-hydrated disc contains sufficient water that gives your spine cushioning and flexibility. Interestingly, intervertebral discs show degenerative and aging changes earlier than any other connective tissue in your body.
Those intervertebral discs serve several purposes. They hold your spine together, allow you to move, and absorb the impact of that movement. If you over-strain those discs, they can bulge and rupture or herniate.
Fluid keeps those discs nicely lubricated so that doesn’t normally happen. But when those spinal discs gradually lose fluid, the rigid outer shell of the disc weakens and begin to collapse. That collapse can put pressure on your nerves in the spinal column.
When these discs degenerate, they can’t fulfill their primary functions to cushion and provide mobility between the vertebrae. Instead, these intervertebral discs become dehydrated, lose elasticity, and collapse.
A strong core supports healthy spinal movement and alignment. Your body’s “core” consists of lower back and abdominal muscles. When you’re carrying groceries or doing squats with your trainer, these muscles stabilize your body. Without these muscles, you can’t do even simple daily activities.
These abdominal and low back muscles work together to maintain the spine’s proper alignment. When your spine’s structure becomes compromised, your spinal cord struggles to communicate effectively with your body.
To understand this better, imagine your core as a cast for a broken arm. Once the bone becomes reset, your doctor puts a hard cast around your arm bone so it heals quickly and properly.
Without that cast, even a reset broken bone couldn’t heal properly doing basic tasks like driving. Over time, that would create a painful structural deficiency that could limit mobility.
That’s what happens when these discs can’t function optimally. A herniated disc or bulging disc can become real problems, yet even without herniating, stressing your spinal discs limits mobility and potentially suppresses your immune system’s ability to fight disease.
In fact, the slightest misalignment of spinal bones puts pressure on your spinal cord, impeding the ability of your brain and body to communicate. Spinal cord pressure can damage the function of any system or organ in your body.
When spinal bones lose proper alignment or movement — in a condition we refer to as the vertebral subluxation complex — they aggravate surrounding nerves and tissue that can disrupt basic organ function. When this type of subluxation occurs, symptoms occur including:
What Causes Degenerative Disc Disease?Age, for one, but gender, genetics, smoking, cardiovascular disease, obesity, physical inactivity, occupational factors (repetitive heavy lifting and vibration), spinal instability, and malalignment also contribute to degenerative disc disease.
In other words, age and genetics can certainly contribute to disc degeneration, but far subtler yet impactful are the daily wear-and-tear episodes — things like heavy lifting or forceful bending — that weaken these discs.
Let’s consider how that might practically play out. You wake up feeling stiff, and while you’re pouring that first cup of coffee, you notice your significant other left a gigantic bag of dog food by the kitchen door. You lift it incorrectly, putting strain on your lower back.
You then drive to work slumped over the steering wheel, arriving at your desk job where you slouch and hunch over your computer for hours.
Eventually, these seemingly minor or innocuous actions create neglected, weakened muscle tissue that your spine needs for support. When you neglect those muscles, eventually vertebrae can get stuck in an abnormal movement pattern, affecting the alignment of the entire spine. This strains your spinal discs and nerves, kick-starting the development of degenerative disc disease.
Who Gets Degenerative Disc Disease?Degenerative disc disease is more common than you might think. About 30 percent (if not more) of 30–50-year-olds have some degree of disc space degeneration — from mild degenerative disc disease to severe degenerative disc disease — though that degeneration isn’t always painful and many never receive a formal diagnosis.
Altogether, about 70–85 percent of people experience lumbar back pain during their lifetime.Degenerative disc disease is one cause, but things like disc herniation, spondylolysis (stress fracture in the pars interarticularis of the vertebral arch), and spondylolisthesis (where one vertebrae slides forward over the vertebrae below it) can also create that pain. Isolating one cause can be a challenge, and for most people, several factors contribute.
Those repercussions can become costly. Low back pain that occurs from degenerative disc disease is the single most common cause for disability for people 45 years or younger, with national economic losses exceeding $100 billion per year, mainly indirect due to reduced productivity.
Treating Degenerative Disc DiseaseMostly, researchers aren’t entirely sure what causes degenerative disc disease, and without symptoms like pain to isolate where it comes from, understanding it can become a challenge.
Again, pain here is good. It helps your practitioner understand where disc degeneration occurs.
Researchers recommend being mindful about the timeline of pain, radiation of pain, prior episodes of trauma, and what might trigger those and other symptoms.
Many patients complain about pain radiating down both buttocks and lower extremities, and practitioners can determine whether the pain is localized to the lower back or if radiation occurs to the leg(s). After all, radiating pain as the main issue can help better treat this problem than having lower back pain that potentially comes from muscle fatigue and strain.
Treating degenerative disc disease often requires a multifactorial approach. Specific chiropractic adjustments improve the movement and alignment of your vertebrae, but you need to also do supplementary core exercises and maintain good posture for healthy spine alignment. While a strong core is helpful, it is not the antidote to degenerative disc disease.
1. Seek Specific Spinal Correction. If you suspect degenerative disc disease, have your spine analyzed as soon as possible. Depending on your age, weight, and lifestyle habits, your spinal discs may already be under a lot of pressure. Spinal correction can relieve this pressure and bring the spine into a better position.
2. Become proactive.Evaluating the health of your spine is the single most effective way to prevent the gradual worsening of degenerative disc disease. Be mindful of basic activities like not putting too much strain on your lower back and maintain good posture.
3. Rethink exercise.Crunches are so 1980s. Among their damage, they strain your discs. Skip them for basic planks, side planks, and working with a stability ball. A personal trainer mindful of spinal issues can create exercises that strengthen your core without straining your spinal cord.
4. Stretch regularly.Make a habit to stretch when you wake up and before you go to bed for 5–10 minutes. Doing so improves flexibility, boosts blood flow, and loosens tight, aching muscles. Stretching shouldn’t hurt. If you experience pain when you stretch, see your chiropractor or other healthcare professional immediately.
5. Reduce inflammation.Like with most problems, chronic inflammation plays a role in degenerative disc disease. One of the best ways to prevent degenerative disc disease or reduce its impact is with an anti-inflammatory diet that includes wild-caught fish, leafy and cruciferous vegetables, freshly ground flaxseed and chia seed, and herbs and spices like turmeric and ginger. Researchers in one study found compared with ibuprofen, the omega-3 fatty acids in fish and fish oil demonstrating an equivalent effect in reducing pain and “appear to be a safer alternative to NSAIDs for treatment of nonsurgical neck or back pain.”
If you’ve ever had a headache, you know it can make even the smallest daily tasks monumental. You’re not alone — nearly two out of three children will have a headache by 15, and over nine in 10 adults experience a headache sometime in their life.
Headaches are the most common form of pain and a major reason for doctor visits and missed work days. Overall, about 13 percent of Americans suffer from headaches, and the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that almost half of all adults worldwide will experience a headache during any given year.
The good news is there are plenty of natural headache relief strategies. More than ever before, North Americans are shying away from more invasive measures like nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen and aspirin. NSAIDs can cause side effects including stomach ulcers and kidney problems, and other invasive measures.
What Causes Headaches?Among the symptoms that characterize headaches include pressure and achiness. Pain can range from mild to severe, usually on both sides of the head but especially the forehead, temples, and back of the neck. A headache can last from 30 minutes up to a week, varying in duration. Episodic headaches last a few hours whereas chronic headaches can last for days.
Even though some feel like they come out of nowhere, numerous culprits can trigger or exacerbate a headache.
“Headaches occur when pain-sensitive nerve endings called nociceptors react to headache triggers (such as stress, certain foods or odors, or use of medicines) and send messages [to] the brain’s ‘relay station’ for pain sensation from all over the body,” says the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, trouble concentrating, and other neurological symptoms can occur with headaches.
Researchers divide headaches into two classes:
Types of HeadachesDepending on your condition, a doctor will diagnose you with a specific type of headache.Migraines, cluster headaches, and tension headaches are all types of primary headaches. Sometimes these overlap — someone who has migraines might also suffer tension headaches.
MigrainesWhile they sometimes get classified separately, migraines are a type of headache. Migraine symptoms include nausea, temporary vision loss, and sensitivity to things like light and sound. Whereas many types of headaches including tension headaches don’t often present warning signs, migraines do. That can actually benefit you —feeling the warning signs of a migraine can help you find a calmer environment to minimize symptoms.
Preventing migraines is the best way to keep them from occurring. This includes managing stress and anxiety levels as well as eliminating trigger foods including sugar, alcohol, and caffeine.
Cluster HeadachesCluster headaches are the most severe form of a primary headache and typically occur at the same time of the day and night for several weeks. Alcohol and smoking can trigger them. So can seasons — they often occur in the spring and fall, potentially leading you to mistake them for seasonal allergies. Attacks are usually less frequent and shorter than migraines.
Treatment options for cluster headaches — published by the National Institute of Health — include non-invasive vagus nerve stimulation, medication, and oxygen therapy (where you breathe pure oxygen through a mask to reduce blood flow to the brain).
Tension HeadachesTension headaches are the most common type of headache. They impact over 70 percent of some populations (one population-based study in Denmark found lifetime prevalence of tension headaches was 78 percent). In contrast, migraines affect about 15 percent (or one in seven people). Many things can trigger or exacerbate tension headaches including stress, anxiety, fatigue, hunger, dehydration, and even poor posture.
To relieve tension headaches, you need to find out what causes them. Underlying causes may be numerous but can include chronic disease, obesity, and sleep disturbances.
9 Ways to Relieve Headaches NaturallyTreating headaches depends on type, frequency, and duration. Work with a healthcare professional to find triggers and incorporate appropriate remedies to address your specific concerns. There are also ways to prevent migraines and other headaches and if they do occur, these natural remedies can reduce their duration and pain levels. Here are nine natural headache relief strategies.
1. Focus on a whole foods dietMany studies discuss trigger foods for migraines and other headaches, but equally important are the right foods. Eating real food provides your body with the nutrients it needs while steadying your blood sugar and leaving you feeling more focused. Rich sources of the mineral magnesium, which researchers argue benefit migraines and other headaches, include leafy green vegetables, nuts, and seeds. A food-first philosophy means changing your diet and seeing if your headaches decrease or disappear.
2. Cut sugarProcessed foods and drinks high in sugar can raise and crash blood sugar, contributing to migraines and other headaches. In his book Happy Gut, Vincent Pedre, MD, says that high-sugar or sugar-equivalent foods also feeds yeast in the gut, creating neurotoxins that trigger headaches and other problems. Sugar can hide in tricky places like almond milk — aim to minimize or eliminate common and not-so-common sources.
3. Address food sensitivitiesOne study looked at 266 foods and their potential to trigger migraines. Eliminating food sensitivities and allergies — triggers include dairy, gluten, and sugar — can reduce migraine-attack frequency. “Delayed allergies (or IgG allergies) are sneaky,” says Mark Hyman, MD, in The UltraMind Solution. “You may eat a piece of bread on Monday and be depressed on Wednesday, or have a piece of cheese today and get a migraine tomorrow. You never make the connection, because you don’t even realize food can have this kind of impact on you.” Elimination diets typically involve trial and error to pinpoint what creates headaches. A food journal helps, but a chiropractor or other healthcare professional can develop a customized eating plan that works specifically for your condition.
4. Supplement with magnesiumTalk with your healthcare professional, chiropractor, or nutritionist about how particular nutrients like magnesium can benefit your type of headache. One study found 75 percent of women consumed less than the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of this undervalued mineral. One review, entitled “Why all migraine patients should be treated with magnesium,” argues that up to half of migraine patients have magnesium deficiencies. Other research shows people with cluster headaches and migraines (especially menstrual migraine) have low levels of magnesium. Effective doses range from 400 milligrams or more a day. Discuss the appropriate dose and form of magnesium with your healthcare professional.
5. Find an exercise that works for you (and do it)Exercise is a double-edged sword. Studies show up to 50 percent of athletes report regular headaches due to physical performance, yet exercise can also relieve headaches. Focusing on rest and recovery, eating the right foods, and practicing good sleep and stress management can all help reduce exercise-induced headaches. But don’t give up exercise — research shows cardiovascular exercise especially can relieve migraine pain. One trial showed yoga could also significantly decrease headache intensity and frequency. Find what works for you and do it consistently.
6. Practice good sleep habitsAccording to Mark R. LaFlamme, MD, poor sleeping habits can trigger or exacerbate migraines. In one study, rats deprived of deep sleep showed changes in expression of key proteins that suppress and trigger chronic pain. Conversely, people with frequent headaches have trouble sleeping, creating a vicious cycle. Work with a chiropractor or other healthcare professional to find out what might impede your sleep levels so you can get eight hours of quality, consistent sleep.
7. Manage stress levelsStress and headaches also become a vicious cycle: Feeling chronically stressed can trigger or exacerbate a headache, which makes stress worse. Manage stress with deep breathing or other techniques that work for you. One randomized controlled trial found that emotional freedom technique (EFT), a simple tapping method, could alleviate symptoms in tension headache sufferers.
8. Keep a journalDistinguishing migraines from other types of headaches can be difficult. A journal can help you, your doctor, and your chiropractor pinpoint the cause and take appropriate action. Some things to note include:
A migraine or headache can make your day miserable, but you don’t need to accept them as simply part of life. Working with your healthcare practitioner and chiropractor who can design a customized dietary and lifestyle protocol can help you find relief from chronic headaches and migraines.
What you may not know is that the TMJ is located a little more than finger’s width away from the top bone of your neck. This part of your spine is referred to as the upper cervical spine (C1 or atlas). Thus, the position of your atlas bone may play a role in the pain associated with TMJ/TMD.
neck. When the atlas displacement complex is present, it can affect the nervous system at a critical area called the Trigeminal Nucleus. These nerves are responsible for the muscles that move the jaw and the nerves that sense pain in the head and neck.
By correcting the atlas displacement, the nerves can function normally again and regain normal feeling and function in the jaw. It is because of this relationship of the atlas to the jaw.
If you or someone you know is struggling with problems from TMJ Chiropractic may be able to help.
Schedule Consultation with today.
Dr. Rosie Gallegos-Main
Chiropractor @Main Health Solutions Meridian