Click here to print this page

Planning Retirement Online

Home Exercise and Rehab

December 2013


Gina John

Gina John is a Pilates Practitioner and Registered Osteopath who has spent many years offering help and advice, especially to the over 50 age group.

She is founder of The Osprey Clinic in the St. Johns Wood area of London and now specialises in Home Exercise and Rehabilitation Programmes. For further advice on exercising safely, and a selection of exercise films for general fitness and medical conditions, visit the website:



This month: Easing the Symptoms of Degenerative Disc Disease.

Q: I experience frequent episodes of leg pain which my GP has said, stems from degenerative disc disease in my low back. Which exercises would help to ease my symptoms?

A: Leg pain which is associated with degeneration of the spinal discs is mediated via several nerves which serve the lower extremities.

Pain at the front of the thigh is mostly conveyed by the femoral nerve which stems from the upper lumbar area and is associated with direct compression of nerves by tight low back and hip muscles. A deep ligament within the spinal canal (Ligamentum Flavum) may buckle as a result of the reduced disc space between the vertebrae and lead to direct nerve root compression, as the nerve exits the spine, and cause severe symptoms at the front of the thighs.

Pain at the back on the thigh, is associated with the sciatic nerve which stems from the lower lumbar and sacral region as well as its smaller branches which emerge along its course down to the feet. Pain in the buttock, outer thigh and the side of the lower leg is common. This is often the result of tight muscles deep within the buttock, which compress the nerve as it exits the pelvis and pain deep within the buttock or along the leg. Buttock muscles provide additional support to the low back and pelvis if the body is struggling to cope with the spinal instability or inefficient spinal mechanics which results from the degeneration of the spinal discs.

Ligaments and muscles close to the spine, especially those attached to the spinal facet joints and the sacroiliac joints of the pelvis, may refer pain to the leg muscles as they share the same nerve supply. The outer part of the thigh and calf are common sites of referred pain from these structures.  

Disc degeneration is diagnosed when an X-ray shows a narrowing of the spinal ‘intervertebral’ disc, the shock-absorbent cartilage (fibrocartilage) between each adjacent vertebra. The disc comprises a viscous, gel-like centre and a firm outer part. Over time, the disc material becomes firmer but more vulnerable to and tears and scar formation, particularly through the outer part, which may cause localized disc pain. Furthermore, spinal vertebrae may show signs of bony remodeling from the degenerative process, by the formation of bony spurs at the periphery of the vertebra, termed Osteophytes, which may irritate nerves directly as they exit the spinal canal, close to the facet joint.

Appropriate strengthening exercise for the abdominal and pelvic floor muscles help the spine to cope with the forces transmitted via the legs while walking. This is helpful in managing the symptoms of Degenerative Disc Disease, as the shock-absorbent capacity of the spinal discs is compromised by the condition.  Gentle stretches help to rebalance the spinal muscles as well as the buttock and hip area to reduce compression or referral of pain symptoms into the leg.
Wearing shock-absorbent footwear with adequate arch support will also help the muscles in the feet, legs, pelvis and low back to cope with the biomechanical problems associated with degenerative discs.

It is important to consult your doctor if your symptoms continue beyond a few weeks. Unremitting leg pain, especially at night may indicate a more serious pathology, and it is vital to have these symptoms investigated promptly.

Pillow squeeze:
Lie on your back with your feet together and squeeze a pillow between your knees. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat 10 times. While holding the position, think of activating your pelvic floor together with your inner thigh muscles, while breathing gently.

Knee Folds:
Lie with your feet hip joint width apart. Pull in your abdominal muscles firmly and try to connect the pelvic floor muscles in the background. Exhale as you fold the right knee over the hip joint. Inhale to hold the position. Exhale to lower the foot to the floor. Repeat 20 times, alternating right and left.


Buttock Stretch:
Lie on your back, with your knees bent and feet on the floor.
Pull up the right leg towards your chest, keeping the right knee angled to the side, so you feel a stretch through the right buttock and hip area. Hold the stretch for 20 seconds, and repeat the stretch to the left buttock and hip.

Standing Hip Stretch:
Stand with your right side facing a wall and your right hand pressed against it for support.
Bend back the left knees, gently holding your ankle towards the buttock. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds and then repeat the stretch to the right hip.



See all Gina's Home Exercise and Rehab features

Please send your questions for Gina John to answer in next month’s column to:

Back to Laterlife Health
Back to Laterlife Today



    Keep in touch with everything happening in Laterlife Today!

    Subscribe to our free monthly email newsletters for the latest articles, offers and events. You can unsubscribe at any time should you want to.


Bookmark This Share on Facebook Receive more like this

feeling Good

Feeling Good

The above article is part of the features section of called laterlife interest. laterlife interest contains a variety of articles of interest for visitors to written by a number of experienced and new journalists.

It includes both one off articles and also associated regular columns of a more specialist nature such as Healthwise, Gardener's Diary, our regular IT question and answer section called YoucandoIT and there's also 'It could be you' by Maggi Stamp laterlife's counsellor on human relationships. 

Looking to the future

Looking to the future

Tell us about what you would like to see here on in the future or any changes you would like to see. Just email

Latest articles

To view the latest articles click on laterlife interest index. To search for articles about a certain topic, use the site search feature at the top right of the page.
Back to Laterlife Today

Visit our Pre-retirement Courses section here on laterlife or our dedicated Retirement Courses site


Advertise on