De-Bunking Degeneration

Lumbar spine scans can often be hard to understand and can contain words such as degeneration, impingement, bulging and stenosis throughout. But what do these words mean? Will they stop you from being able to do the things you love to do? One in six Australians reported having back problems in 2017-18, that’s a whopping 4 million people. Of those 4 million, 70-80% suffer from lower back conditions. That’s a lot of sore backs and potentially a lot of people who are restricting their activities for fear of increasing their pain. Anyone who is suffering from ongoing back pain can be referred by a doctor to have an x-ray, MRI or CT scan, using diagnostic imaging is a common practice to diagnose a condition. However, can these scans allot us to become bogged down in a diagnosis and restrict ourselves from doing things we love like exercise.

As we get older our bodies begin to deteriorate. Unfortunately, this happens to the best of us and most of those scary words like degeneration, diseased, impingement, bulging and stenosis will appear in a varying percentage of the population’s scan and they are not typically due to a specific injury but rather to age. When looking at a large sample of scans of individuals with no lower back pain symptoms:

  • 37% of 20-year old’s showed some disc degeneration which increased to 96% in 80- year old’s.
  • 30% of 20-year old’s showed some form of a disc bulge and the prevalence increased to 94% in 80 year old’s.
  • Disc protrusion prevalence increased from 29% of those 20 years of age to 43% of those 80 years of age.
  • The prevalence of annular fissure increased from 19% of those 20 years of age to 29% of those 80 years of age.

Imaging findings of spine degeneration are present in high proportions individuals with no symptoms of lower back pain and increase with age. Many imaging-based degenerative features are likely part of normal aging and are not associated with pain. Further damage caused by doing the things we love like exercising is unlikely and keeping your muscles strong will assist with managing any pain.

If you would like some helpful tips on managing your lower back pain check out some core stability exercises https://absolutebalance.com.au/understanding-core-strength-and-its-importance-in-rehabilitation/. If you’re still not sure about what exercises might work well for you or are a little hesitant to get back into the swing of things contact us at Absolute Balance for more information from our experienced team of Accredited Exercise Physiologists.

Claire Hills ( B.EXSpSc,Grad.Dip.(Clin.Ex.Phys))
Accredited Exercise Physiologist (AEP) (ESSAM)

Brinjikji, W., Luetmer, P., Comstock, B., Bresnahan, B., Chen, L., Deyo, R., … Jarvik, J. (2014). Systematic Literature Review of Imaging Features of Spinal Degeneration in Asymptomatic Populations. American Journal of Neuroradiology36(4), 811–816. doi: 10.3174/ajnr.a4173

Britt H, Miller G, Henderson J, et al. General practice activity in Australia 2013–14. Sydney: Sydney University Press, 2014.

Spinal Degeneration: Degenerative Spine Conditions. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/16912-degenerative-back-conditions.

Back problems, What are back problems? (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/chronic-musculoskeletal-conditions/back-problems/contents/what-are-back-problems.