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Planning Retirement Online

Home Exercise and Rehab

March 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: Gina answers questions on disc degeneration

Q: Following a recent X-ray to my low back region, my G.P has advised me that I have Degenerative Disc Disease and that exercise can help manage this condition. Which exercises are useful to relieve my pain and stiffness? 

Disc degeneration is a normal part of the aging process. In a young healthy individual, the spinal ‘intervertebral’ disc, which is the shock-absorbent cartilage (fibrocartilage) between each adjacent vertebra, 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, causing disc pain. This process is precipitated by excessive wear and tear, especially high-impact activities and therefore, it is not uncommon to find sporty 30 year olds, being diagnosed with Degenerative Disc Disease.

Chronic low back pain is common with this condition. Inflammation may occur in the neighbouring back muscles or spinal ligaments, associated with the altered spinal mechanics and cause pain to radiate to the buttocks, hips and thighs. Tightness or tingling may also be felt in the legs. The daily pattern of symptoms usually starts with low back soreness or stiffness on waking, which resolves after a few hours to leave some pain with bending, lifting, and twisting. When the inflammatory process in the disc or surrounding soft tissues is most active, pain is experienced when sedentary and sitting or lying in bed will feel uncomfortable.

It is important to consult your doctor if you continue to experience pain at night and find it difficult to get back to sleep or if you suffer unremitting leg symptoms. Other pathologic symptoms linked to more serious illness may be the cause of these symptoms, and it is vital to have these fully investigated.

While walking our leg muscles react to the type of ground surfaces beneath the feet and therefore, wearing shock-absorbent footwear with adequate arch support, ensures that muscles in the feet, legs, pelvis and low back are not forced to overwork.

Exercise which helps the spine to cope with the forces transmitted via the legs while walking is helpful in managing the symptoms of Degenerative Disc Disease, as the shock-absorbent capacity of the spinal discs is compromised with the condition. Also, gentle movement helps to dissipate inflammation and appropriate exercise rebalances the spinal muscles.

By strengthening the pelvic floor muscles, buttock and hip muscles, the pelvic bones are more stable with walking and therefore, better equipped to absorb and dissipate forces, prior to their effects being felt in the spine.

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.

Strengthening the abdominal muscles, will provide a corset- like support for your low back, thereby helping your deep spinal and postural muscles to work more efficiently while standing or engaged in physical activities.

Pillow Squeeze

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.

Gentle stretches for hips and buttock muscles are therapeutic and help to maintain overall mobility.

Knee Folds

Buttock and Hip 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.

Hip Buttock Stretch


See all Gina's Home Exercise and Rehab features

Please send your questions for future columns, or feedback, by email to Gina John on

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