Recent Studies Show Running and Exercise May Actually Strengthen the Intervertebral Disc
A recent study looked at the lumbar disc problems, Intervertebral Discs (IVDs) in people that were runners for greater than five years and also ran more than 50+ kilometers per week (long distance runners). The intervertebral discs act as shock absorbents between each of the vertebrae in the spinal column by keeping the vertebrae separated when there is impact from activity, like running.
When they observed these individuals, they noticed their intervertebral disc sizes were proportionally greater than the non-athletic group; this was found across the lower lumbar spine. None of the participants in the study had a history of current or past spinal problems.
The actual lower lumbar intervertebral discs, which are more prone to degeneration in the normal population, had an increased size compared to similarly sized individuals. These hypertrophy changes are noted in the body in response to loads in muscle and bone. In the bone, they referred to it as Wolf’s Law, which refers to an increase in bone density as the relative loads increase in the body.
An example of this is noted in construction workers and people that typically carry heavy loads as part of their occupation; they tend to have greater sized bones in response to those greater demands. If the demands occurred too rapidly, you can experience stress fractures in the same bones.
This is often seen in runners who increase their distance too rapidly for the body to adapt to the increased distance and loads.
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My goal in bringing this up is to make you aware that our bodies can adapt to many things. In this recent study, it appears that in the case of the lumbar disc, it actually increases the size to accommodate the running demands.
So, go out and enjoy your running! The next time someone tells you that running might be hurting your back, just tell him or her to talk to me! LOL!