People with degenerative disk disease should avoid slouching and a sedentary lifestyle. They should also refrain from exercise or activities that are high impact or involve heavy lifting.

Many people experience lower back pain due to degenerative disk disease. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), people with this condition should eat a diet with sufficient phosphorous, calcium, and vitamins to promote new bone growth.

The backbone, or spine, comprises 33 individual bones called vertebrae. Lying between the bones are pads of fibrocartilage called disks, which provide support and flexibility. The disks consist of a firm structure that surrounds a soft center.

Degenerative disk disease occurs when damaged disks cause pain in a person. It usually occurs due to the aging process.

This article discusses what exercises, foods, drinks, and other things to avoid with degenerative disk disease. It also examines how to best manage the condition.

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A person with degenerative disk disease should avoid any exercises that involve heavy lifting.

An older study from 2014 evaluated 553 people to determine a relationship between the cumulative effects of heavy lifting and the condition. It found that those who engaged in a high or intermediate amount of heavy lifting had a greater risk of degenerative disk disease.

Exercises and movements that involve twisting the spine can also cause back injuries and conditions leading to back pain — including degenerative disk disease — when a person combines them with heavy lifting, pushing, or pulling movements. It is also best to avoid high impact exercises.

Research from 2022 notes that inflammation has links to degenerative disk disease.

Consequently, avoiding foods and beverages that promote inflammation may help. These include:

  • sugary beverages, such as sodas
  • processed meat, such as bacon, sausage, and lunch meats
  • red meat, such as beef and pork
  • refined grains, such as white bread, white rice, and crackers
  • sweets, such as pies, cakes, and cookies
  • saturated fat, such as fatty cuts of meat, lard, and palm oil

According to a 2022 research article, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen (Motrin) and epidural injections, may help treat degenerative disk disease.

An epidural of a steroid drug, such as dexamethasone (Dexasone), may provide short-term relief of pain stemming from disk herniation. This is when the disk pushes out of its place in the spinal column, creating a bulge.

An older 2014 review suggests that slouching may increase the risk of degenerative disk disease.

The authors recommend exercises to improve posture as a preventive measure.

Later research sheds additional light on the importance of posture for back health, as it notes that slouching has associations with lower back pain.

Nutrition and exercise are important areas of focus, as they can make a difference.


A close association exists between the health of the back and nutrition.

An optimal diet for fighting or preventing degenerative disk disease involves:

  • Whole grains: These foods are rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals, all of which link to a lower risk of various conditions, including those that affect the spine. Examples include oats, quinoa, and whole grain bread.
  • Fruit: All fruit contains nutrients that promote health. Examples include grapes, berries, and oranges.
  • Green leafy vegetables: These foods are plentiful in vitamin K and help protect against inflammation and degenerative disk disease. Examples include spinach, cabbage, and kale.
  • Lean protein: Such foods help regulate blood sugar, build muscle, and reduce sugar cravings that lead to eating less nutritious options. Examples include beans, turkey, and chicken breast.
  • Healthy fats: Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial for an array of body functions. These include salmon, yogurt, and nuts.


Exercise is frequently a more effective nonsurgical treatment than resting for rehabilitating the spine.

A physical activity program for degenerative disk disease often includes stretching, strengthening exercises, and low impact aerobic exercises, such as walking. However, a person should check with their doctor first before starting an exercise program.

An older 2014 study explored the benefits of 8 weeks of exercise to strengthen core muscles that stabilize the spine. The participants included 33 people with degenerative disk disease.

Analysis of the results indicated that the program was effective in decreasing pain and disability.

Managing degenerative disk disease enables most people to maintain a good quality of life without surgery.

Strategies for managing the condition include:

  • physical therapy exercises to stretch and strengthen core muscles that stabilize the spine
  • modifying activities that worsen the pain
  • cognitive therapy
  • medications

Additionally, experts advise people to stop smoking and maintain a moderate weight.

In cases where the above interventions are ineffective, surgery may be an option. Surgical techniques include fusing two disks or replacing a damaged disk.

People with degenerative disk disease need to avoid foods that promote inflammation and physical activities involving heavy lifting and twisting.

Additionally, a person should avoid smoking, if applicable, slouching, and consuming more than moderate amounts of alcohol.

Conversely, they should focus on eating a diet rich in whole grains, fruits, leafy vegetables, nutritious fats, and lean protein.

A regular exercise routine that includes stretching, strengthening, and aerobic exercises will also prove beneficial.