Living and Training with a Chronic Condition: An Insight

The human body is amazing. Let me just lay that out there first. The intricacies in the ways our bodies function are finer than any machine we can imagine.

Seriously, even a cursory intro to anatomy and/or physiology will give you an appreciation for these bizarre skin suits we live, breathe, train, and die in.

I love how bodies function, even if we aren’t always thrilled with how they look.

As a trainer, and a human, I appreciate that many of us are dealing with challenges inside ourselves.

Degenerative Disc Disease

This is my condition. It is normally an older person condition. I was diagnosed at 23 when I blew out two discs and an MRI confirmed I have “the spinal column of a woman in her sixties.” Sweet. In fact, says “almost everyone older than age 60 has degeneration of the discs,” though not everyone experiences pain.

What is it?

First off, they’ve misnamed it. It’s not a disease (I suspect they like the hashtag #DDD over #DDC). It’s a condition that results in pain when a disc “loses integrity”.


It’s also the diagnosis given when no better diagnosis can be given.


Some specific factors include:

  • Discs drying out. This essentially results in less shock absorption. If you were a car, you’d have them replaced.
  • Sports and other activities (i.e. car accidents) can cause tears in the outer core of the disc.
  • Injuries can cause swelling, soreness, instability.

Sounds awesomesauce, right? Since discs don’t have a regular supply of blood they do not repair. Basically, they die. My lumbar spine consists of very little healthy discs. Others deal with this in different parts of their spine. Due to the location of my DDD tight hamstrings, twisting, unevenly picking up things can all cause inflammation. This often leads to sciatica, which is another party.

What are the Symptoms?

Generally all pain is located in the lower back or the neck. Symptoms care of, comments care of me.

  • Pain that ranges from nagging to severe and disabling
  • Pain that affects the low back, buttocks and thighs (ding ding ding!)
  • Pain in the neck that may radiate to the arms and hands
  • Pain that is worse when sitting (Sitting is the devil)
  • Pain that gets worse when bending, lifting or twisting (YUP)
  • Pain that lessens when walking and moving (Yay, moving!)
  • Pain that lessens with changing positions often or lying down (Can I just sleep until it goes away? I ❤ sleep)
  • Periods of severe pain that come and go, lasting from a few days to a few months (Please be just a few weeks…)
  • Numbness and tingling in the extremities (Yeah, weird)
  • Weakness in the leg muscles or foot drop may be a sign that there is damage to the nerve root

How is it Diagnosed?

Mine was diagnosed through MRI when I blew out my back putting my infant child into the backseat of a car. I was given steroid injections on multiple occasions. Once, the doctor hit a nerve and, yes, it hurt like hell. I also went through physical therapy, which helped.

Other ways include medical history and physical examination. Remember, it’s basically a catch all for “we’re not sure what else to call it.”

How is it Treated?

Pain management, mainly. I hate the pills they prescribe because I can’t function on pain pills so I don’t take them. I want a real solution. Physical therapy helped me recover and since then I know what to do and what to avoid. It still flares up at times, generally times of extreme stress, but mostly it’s manageable.

Other options include: surgery (no), heat & cold therapies, OTC medications, spinal mobilization.

My personal and professional opinion is leave surgery to a last resort, especially on your spine. It’s not often effective and can cause many other problems. If you can focus on pain management, spinal mobility, and core strengthening.

Whatever you’re dealing with – diabetes, surgeries, injuries, scoliosis – most likely you can be active to some degree. In fact, it’s typically less healthy for anyone to remain sedentary. I strongly suggest you speak with a qualified person to discuss how to become or remain active. Don’t give up on yourself, even when it hurts.

Good luck!