Study Shows that Running Can Strengthen the Spine

If you’re a runner, then you know the exhilaration that comes from getting your heart pumping as you log your miles. But many non-runners don’t understand the attraction, and even suspect that the regular pounding that comes from the activity may be doing significant damage. Now a study conducted by Professor Daniel Belavy of Deakin University in Australia has contradicted that theory, indicating that it may even be beneficial for the discs in our spine.

According to the report titled, “Running exercise strengthens the invertebral disc,” which was published in the journal Scientific Reports, it has long been known that physical activity can help to strengthen the muscles that support the spine. But the discs that lie between the vertebrae have always been thought of as slow healing, and it has been believed that there is little in the way of medication or exercise that could have an impact on their cushioning material. Belavy’s team has shown that regular exercise such as running or jogging, as well as walking, actually strengthens the disc, and improves the overall health of the back and spine.

Research done in Sweden had previously shown that when laboratory animals were put on treadmills and forced to run for several weeks, the discs in their spines grew larger and stronger. But making the leap from what happened to mice in response to running and what happens to people was impossible, if only because the animals run on four legs and have such differences in body structure. The scientists set out to determine whether humans would have a similar response by enlisting dozens of participants. Two thirds of those who were recruited were runners who had engaged in the activity for at least 5 years, and one third were not. The runners were split between those who ran long distances each week and those who ran between 12 and 25 miles a week. All of the participants submitted to MRIs to measure the size and liquidity of their spinal discs, and all were asked to wear accelerometers for a week to ensure that their activity levels were as reported.

The MRI revealed that no matter whether the runners ran long distances or not, the discs in their backs were larger and more liquid than those of the sedentary group. This is an indication of better spinal health. Further study showed that those with the healthiest discs all shared the same general level of force in their activities. Further study revealed that though it is not necessary to run in order to strengthen the spinal discs, the level of activity required for disc health does seem to require at least a fast walk, and that a leisurely pace or simply standing will not accomplish the same goal.

The bottom line is that our discs seem to thrive when we move. For information on whether an exercise program can benefit your spine health, make an appointment with our lumbar spine specialist in New Jersey today.

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