Physical Inactivity and Spinal Compression

Disc Height Loss

Physical inactivity relates to many poor musculoskeletal conditions but has not been carefully looked at with regards to disc height loss.

In Arthritis and Research Therapy, a manuscript published May 7, 2015, researchers looked at seventy-two community based volunteer’s lumbar spine during 2011-2012. They used MRI to evaluate their spines after obtaining information of the level of activity by questionnaire between 2005 and 2008. At the time of MRI, they  a chronic pain scale to evaluate low back pain. Intervertebral disc height, muscle area of two spinal muscles and fat content of the multifidus muscle were measured.

The results showed that physical inactivity was related to disc height loss. There was no association seen between the size of the muscles in the spine but there was a relationship to fat within the multifidus.

It is very likely that the disc height loss seen, relates to the static load of the spinal tissues. Previous research has demonstrated static compression shows disc height loss. This was seen in a publication in Effects of static compression with different loading magnitudes and durations on the intervertebral disc: an in vivo rat-tail study.

Interestingly, too much activity, like seen with moderate-intensity running, has also shown significant disc height loss.

While research continues to expose the balance between physical inactivity and activity, too much of either looks to be deleterious to spinal discs. Spine educators have a job to teach patients about the important balance between too much or too little motion. Dynamic Disc models help doctors convey important load examples in the drive to improve spinal outcomes.

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