Degenerative Disc Disease and Chiropractic Care 

 May 30, 2012

By  Dr. Tripp Stover, D.C.

Mechanicsville Virginia Chiropractor – Whether they first see the phrase in print or hear it for the first time in a doctor’s office, “degenerative disc disease” (DJD) is a term that many chronic back pain sufferers will encounter.  It’s part of a brand new vocabulary that many patients learn as they try to understand their condition and navigate healthcare choices.  But what does it really mean?

Degenerative disc disease is not actually what we often think a disease is at all.  It is not a genetic condition you are born with, it is not something you catch from another person.  Rather, it refers to abnormal changes in your spinal discs that tend to occur over time as your body ages while trying to compensate for subluxations.  Spinal discs are the soft “separators” between your vertebrae that cushion the individual bones and give your spine its flexibility.  Healthy ones are thick and soft.  Unhealthy ones are thinner and more brittle.  Over the years, these discs may gradually become less effective as the amount of fluid inside is reduced or cumulative wear and tear damages the discs and raises the risk of bulging, rupture or disintegration.  The truth is that by the time we reach middle age, most of us already have degenerating discs, whether we’re experiencing any pain or not (which means we often have undetected subluxations).  And even with our best imaging technology, it can be very difficult to tell whether this degeneration is actually the source of a patient’s symptoms.

Something that may interest you is I see degenerative disc disease in young and old!  Why is that?  Notice above:  Over the years, these discs may gradually become less effective as the amount of fluid inside is reduced or cumulative wear and tear damages the discs and raises the risk of bulging, rupture or disintegration.  Notice what I didn’t say.  I did not say we see DJD in the elderly population.  I’ve seen patients as young as 12 with significant degeneration in their spine.  Why?  It means they have had a subluxation(s) which creates abnormal wear and tear on discs and joints for years.  When do we fist have a spine to be injured?  From day one!

So from a patient’s point of view, this bit of language—degenerative disc disease—can be both confusing and frustrating since it suggests a diagnosis but doesn’t usually come with a clear set of treatment options attached.  In some ways, it may actually seem like a “catch-all diagnosis” or “un-diagnosis”.

Can I Benefit From Chiropractic Care if I Have Degenerative Disc Disease?

Sometimes patients who’ve been told they have degenerative disc disease wonder if chiropractic adjustments can still help them or if they’re safe.  The answer to these questions depends on the patient’s individual circumstances, including whether the damaged discs are herniated or ruptured (bulging or broken) or have caused other conditions, such as osteoarthritis (a breakdown of the tissue that protects joints) or spinal stenosis (a narrowing of the channel within the spine that holds the spinal cord).

Chiropractic physicians are specially trained to diagnose the underlying causes of back pain and to recognize when specific types of treatment may be either ineffective or harmful in situations where patients have degenerative disc disease.  Since we are often skilled in a wide range of conservative, non-surgical therapies, most chiropractors will recommend low-force, non-thrusting techniques in situations involving disc degeneration and related complications.  In my practice I may also employ traditional spinal adjustments based upon the results of a careful evaluation of my patient.  Every patient is different, so I have learned different techniques to accommodate a wide variety of needs and preferences.  The most helpful has been upper cervical care, which is very gentle and specific. It feels good or at least painless to people with DJD.

Chiropractic care generally focuses on addressing back pain at its source (the subluxation) as well as improving the spine’s stability and mobility.  While there is no cure for degenerative disc disease, an effective treatment plan in my office will usually combine adjustments with supervised exercise and/or nutritional programs and lifestyle changes designed to minimize its impact.  If you’re wondering what chiropractic care could do for you or someone you care about, please call our office today to schedule a consultation.


Degenerative Disc Disease – Topic Overview. (2011, July 21). Retrieved September 2011, from WebMD: http://www.webmd.com/back-pain/tc/degenerative-disc-disease-topic-overview

Arn Strasser, D. (n.d.). How a Chiropractor Treats Degenerative Disc Disease. Retrieved September 2011, from spineuniverse.com: http://www.spineuniverse.com/experts/how-chiropractor-treats-degenerative-disc-disease

New York Times Back Pain In-Depth Report. (n.d.). Retrieved September 2011, from nytimes.com: http://health.nytimes.com/health/guides/symptoms/back-pain-low/print.html

Peter F. Ullrich JR, M. (n.d.). Degenerative Disc Disease. Retrieved September 2011, from spine-health.com: http://www.spine-health.com/conditions/degenerative-disc-disease/what-degenerative-disc-disease

Dr. Tripp Stover, D.C.

Dr. Stover grew up in Richmond. He has been married to his wife Andrea since 2000 and they make their home in Mechanicsville with their children, Avery and Garnett.

Dr. Tripp Stover, D.C.

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