Degenerative disc disease in the low back


Dr Virginia Nsitem

Degenerative disc disease in the low back

By Virginia Nsitem

This article will discuss a case of a patient who came to my clinic with complaints of low back pain.

Initial consultation

A middle-aged female patient called my office and made an appointment to see me for her complaints of low back pain. She stated that her symptoms started suddenly, with no traumatic event that she could recall. Her main symptoms were:

  • Back pain described as dull and achy, with episodes of sharp spasms
  • Back pain that radiated down to the buttocks and thighs
  • Pain worse in the morning
  • Pain getting up from a chair or out of a car
  • Pain worse with bending
  • Pain triggered by sneezing
  • Pain alleviated with walking and moving around

One of her friends told her that she probably has a bulging disc and should be prepared to have spinal surgery!


During the examination I found that she had difficulty bending and twisting her spine. She was able to walk on her toes and heels, and had good strength and reflexes in her legs. She didn’t seem to have any problem with sensation to cold or sharp objects on her legs. The muscles in the low back were tight, tender, and in spasm. The joints in her low back tender to touch, and caused the symptoms to radiate into her thighs. Flexion of her hips also caused some pain down the thighs.


The patient was fortunate to have some x-rays of her back. I reviewed the x-rays and the report. The x-rays showed that there was a loss of height in the discs of the lumbar spine, and signs of stress on the outer portions of the spinal bones (vertebrae). I diagnosed her with lumbar degenerative disc disease.

I explained to her that the low back is made up of 5 spinal bones, called vertebra, and the bones are separated by spongy shock absorbers called discs. The discs also help the spine bend, twist, and turn. As the discs wear down, they lose their structure and height, and this can affect how the low back moves, and can lead to pain.  

Treatment Plan

Her rehabilitation program included:

  • Chiropractic treatments to improve flexibility, balance, and strength of the spine, and restore proper movement to the joints of the spine. Laser therapy was used to help reduce the pain associated with the muscle spasms.
  • Rehab Program: She was taught specific exercises to strengthen the abdominal, pelvic, and back muscles. She met with our physiotherapist for a consultation, and added a few massage therapy sessions to help reduce the tightness in her muscles.
  • Posture: She was also taught about proper lifting, bending, sitting, and lying techniques to reduce the risk of recurrence of her pain.

After six weeks of therapy, she reported a significant decrease in her low back pain, and an improvement in her movement. She was excited to return to many of her daily activities, including baking and going on long walks. She was also happy that she came in for an appointment and was provided with the proper information about the cause of her pain.

          Stop the Pain … Before the Pain Stops You!

Dr. Virginia Nsitem is a chiropractor specializing in laser therapy for spine, muscle, joint, and nerve injuries, and is a Fellow of the Royal College of Chiropractic Sports Sciences in Canada. She may be reached at (905) 275-4993, or by email at