Before you ask, no, discogenic pain isn’t caused by too much time in the night club getting your groove on!

I have mostly survived being 50 as I quickly head toward 51 in a couple months. In an effort to take better care of myself, lose weight, and get diabetes under control, I joined a crossfit type program (Legion Transformation Center) near my house, which also happens to be near my office in Essex (got to make it easy, otherwise it doesn’t get done, right?). Friends asked me why I started such an aggressive program at the age of 50 – one even told me, “Don’t you F-ing get hurt!” I will admit it was hell in the beginning and it made it clear how sedentary I had become as my back kept yelling at me “you F-ing idiot! Stop doing this!” Thankfully I listened to my aches and pains, recognizing my body’s complaints, and then consoled them with a bit more self-care in the way of Ibuprofen, TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation), ultrasound, and even an inversion table on top of regularly stretching to loosen up my sore muscles. It is not as bad now, but I am entering my 15th week of crossfit as I write this article and will be in the 16th week of it by the time you are reading it, so my body is now on board-ish with the program and I don’t get as sore as I did in the beginning.

My journey does raise the question: How many of you are avoiding physical activity because your back or some other body part hurts? I have found there is a lot of fear fueled my misconceptions about how the back works and there are a lot of catchphrases floating around but very few people tie them together. What is the difference between a sprain and a strain? What is stenosis, degenerative disc disease (DDD), or discogenic pain? Before you ask, no, discogenic pain isn’t caused by too much time in the night club getting your groove on! How does your core help (or hinder) your back? Let’s start with some definitions to clear up the fog of confusion.

Sprain vs. strain – Ligaments are fibers that hold one bone to another. These fibers can get sprained when they are overstretched. Muscles, on the other hand, get strained when they pull more vigorously than they should. This often occurs in the low back when picking up a box, groceries, or person that is too heavy for us and we don’t use our knees.

Discogenic pain is pain caused by the disc – the tough yet pliable spacer between the bones of the spine. Hydrodynamics dictate that fluids move from high pressure to low pressure following the path of least resistance. Our discs are 80% water! If you are always bending forward on your phone or computer, or slumped on your sofa watching TV, then your discs will want to glide backward and can cause pinching of a nerve, resulting in fun tingling or sharp pain down one leg or the other.

Stenosis is when the disc itself gets a bit worn and thins out a bit, allowing the bones of the spine to get closer together. This in turns cuts down on the amount of space the nerves of the spine move around in and can get pinched that way. These are the people who lean over onto their shopping carts for relief. Look around Wal-Mart next time you go shopping.

All these conditions are reversible if caught soon enough, and some research even suggests that stenosis, disc degeneration, and bulges may be a normal part of the aging process. When looking at people my age – in their 50s – 80% of us have disc degeneration with no symptoms, and 60% of us have disc bulges with no symptoms. Bottom line is that if you have back pain and go to get an MRI, chances are they will find something, but it does not mean it is the cause of your pain. This is where physical therapy comes in. An evaluation by a manual physical therapist can help determine the cause of your pain.

My catchphrase is, “If your symptoms are reproducible then your symptoms are reducible.”  This means that if you have the same pain / discomfort / leak / symptom every time with certain movements then chances are a physical therapist can help you reduce or resolve the problem.