Prevention of Back Pain
Back pain is a problem of significant proportions which we face today, with about 12% of the world’s population having experienced back pain lasting for more than 1 day, and about 23% for more than 1 month . With such significant numbers, rehabilitation for back pain is arguably one of the biggest factors driving today’s healthcare. Another present approach to back pain is an increasing emphasis on prevention. Taking good care of one’s health and maintaining good physical activity levels is beneficial for overall well being, and can ensure a healthy body which can reduce the risk of injuries.
Walking and Jogging Strengthens the Discs in our Backs
A study by a group of Australians found that in men and woman aged 25-35 years old, long-term joggers and fast walkers who exercise about 5 hours a week (about 45 minutes a day) had healthier intervertebral discs in their spine . This is thought to be due to the body’s ability to adapt to load, which is a phenomenon already well-known in the medical field. This study is the first to show in humans that exercise can be beneficial for discs.
Intervertebral discs, or just discs, are cushion-like structures in between each vertebrae (spine bones) that help our back be flexible, absorb impact and weight. These discs occasionally get injured due to many different reasons, and may cause pain or discomfort in the back or rest of the body.
Graph 1: Thicker and juicier discs in long-distance runners (black) joggers and fast-walkers (red), as compared to non-active individuals (white).
A healthy disc is thick and hydrated, and these features were found in the discs of joggers, fast-walkers and long-distance runners who had been doing their activity for at least 5 years, as compared to non-active individuals.
The Main TakeawayThe long-distance runners actually did not have significantly healthier discs than fast-walkers and joggers, which means that you don’t have to be a long-distance runner to maintain good disc health. Slow jogging or brisk walking is just fine.
However, what is important to note here is that the people in this study were dedicated walkers / joggers / runners! They exercised consistently, and while more research has to be done on the length of time needed to show changes in discs, it does indicate that persistence is key. Developing a consistent exercise habit that involves brisk walking or jogging for about 45 minutes a day can help improve disc health and increase resilience against disc injury.
Read and download the full study here: Running exercise strengthens the intervertebral disc
- Epidemiology of low back pain. Acta Orthop Scand Suppl 1998;281: 28–31. .
- Belavy D, Quittner M, Ridgers N, Ling Y, Connell D, Rantalainen T. Running exercise strengthens the intervertebral disc. Scientific Reports 2017. 7. 45975. 10.1038/srep45975.