Exercise can improve spine anatomy, first direct evidence shows

Jun 29 2011
There is much discussion in the media and in scientific literature about sports-related injuries, with baseball, football or hockey players regularly sent to a disabled list or to the operating table for back pain.

However, since prevention is better than treatment, it may be interesting to review the results of a recent study, which suggests that exercise, when done properly, can make the body resistant to injuries that can occur during athletic activities.

According to researchers from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, physical activity can stimulate cell production in intervertebral discs, boosting their flexibility and thereby strengthening the entire spinal column. The results of the research were presented at the annual meeting of the International Society for the Study of the Lumbar Spine in Gothenburg.

They made this observation after studying rats that were subjected to treadmill exercise for an hour each day, and comparing them to a control group of animals whose only activity was to move around in a cage.

Helena Brisby, an associate professor at the Department of Orthopaedics at Sahlgrenska Academy and spine surgeon at Sahlgrenska University Hospital, said that this is the first study that demonstrates that the anatomy and physiology of intervertebral discs can be positively impacted by exercise.

In addition to making the spine more resistant to damage, this approach may also help alleviate existing back pain and thus potentially help individuals avoid a surgical intervention.

In the next phase of their inquiry, the scientists are planning to study whether regular exercise - and how much of it - can help prevent the onset of age-related conditions such as degenerative disc disease.

In the meantime, professional and amateur athletes should keep in mind that proper warm-up and cool-down techniques can also go a long way towards reducing their risk of injury. The most effective regimens involve back stretches and include exercises that strengthen and tone all major muscle groups.

Sportsmed.org cites statistics from The National Golf Foundation which indicate that in this sport alone, some 60 percent of professional players and 40 percent of amateurs suffered an injury, mainly due to overuse, during a two-year period of study.