Degenerative disc disease is one of the most painful and debilitating things you can feel. As the cartilage disks between the vertebrae deteriorate, the grinding of bone on bone can cause pain and breakdown of the spine. The L5-S1 region of the lumbar and sacral regions is in the "sitting bones" region of the back, amidst the pelvis. Improper standing posture and lifting, carrying lots of weight and a sedentary lifestyle can all contribute to the risk of having this condition. Surgery is common in extreme cases, but earlier cases can be managed with lifestyle and exercises. Rest, heat, ice and stretching are all important parts of this. Here are three exercises that you can do to take some stress off your lower back and mitigate pain:
The hamstrings are the long muscles that go between your lower back and the back of your knees. They are the body's longest muscle bands, and one of the easiest to lengthen if you are dedicated to regular stretching exercises. After warming up your muscles (stretching cold can tear them), toe touches, sitting reaches and V-sits are all great ways to lengthen these muscles. Even playing games like solitaire, and placing the cards just out of your reach will give you some extra time to stretch the muscles well.
Psoas Muscle Stretches
The psoas muscle is the band that pulls on the lumbar from the inside. A tight band can make the lower back hard to move (things like flattening your back to the floor in yoga may be difficult to impossible). A looser psoas gives you more control over your back and allows you to find more comfortable standing and sitting positions. The best exercise for stretching the psoas is a modified lunge. Drop to both knees, and move one leg up into a chair sitting position, with foot flat on the floor and knee bent at ninety degrees. Lean forward in this position, making sure that you are feeling the stretch in your hips, and not in your lower back. You can put your hand on your raised knee in order to support your body if you need to.
Degenerative disc disease is something that affects many elderly and injured people, and if there are additional balance, weight, or fitness restrictions then it is not a good idea to try the exercises on your own. At a minimum, have a spotter to work you through your exercises and make sure you are supported and unlikely to fall. Better yet, work your exercises with a physical therapist or PT assistant who is trained to ensure that you are doing the exercises in a way to work the right muscles, and who can offer alternative treatments if these are ineffective or difficult to complete.