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Take Your Back for a Run (or Brisk Walk)

Many contend that running hurts your back. But recent research suggests otherwise.

Disc Health

To understand the study, it’s important to remember that our spine is made up of vertebral bones with discs in between for cushioning. These discs contain fluid that help absorb pressure during movement. More fluid means more cushioning and a healthier back.

Does Running Help Your Back?

A recent study from Deakin University in Australia separated 79 adult men and women into three groups. Those that ran more than 30 miles a week, those that ran between 12 and 25 miles a week, and those that rarely exercised at all.

By scanning all participants’ spines using a sophisticated type of M.R.I. that measures the size and liquidity of each disk, researchers could assess the health of runners’ and non-runners’ backs.

Because size and internal fluid indicate disc health, their findings showed that “runners’ discs were larger and contained more fluid than the discs of the men and women who did not exercise.” Bigger and more fluid means a healthier disc.

One additional discovery of note involved the mileage run by each group and back health. The discs of the moderate runners, who ran less than 30 miles a week, had similar back health to the long-distance group. “Heavy training does not augment disc health but also does not contribute to deterioration.”

Researchers also concluded that brisk walking “generated enough physical force to bring people’s movement into the range associated with the healthiest disks.”

“The sweet spot for disc health seemed to reside somewhere in the range of fast walks and gentle jogs.”

That said, the research does not conclude whether exercise might aid in treating existing disc problems, nor that exercise caused people’s discs to become healthier. The study simply showed that people who ran had healthier discs.

Read The New York Times article featuring this study.

Dr. Sonja Stilp loves a run or a brisk walk when out and about in Boulder, Colorado.  She specializes in spine and sports medicine.  If you’re suffering from back pain or simply looking for guidance on your running program, schedule an appointment.
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