Don't Slow Down to Save Your Back. Exercise, instead!

If you want to keep back pain at bay, stay active

Men's Health—August 24, 2011

By Alexander P. Hughes, M.D.

How many times have you thought that maybe you should take it easy when back pain strikes? Believe it or not, that may not be the best prescription. In fact, recent studies are slowly shifting the way experts view the cascade of events surrounding degenerative disc disease, which produces much of the chronic back pain we hear about.

But first, let’s look at how your spine functions. Disc degeneration involves cellular, biochemical, structural, mechanical, and functional changes. The decline of the disc itself, along with all the structures around it, is usually thought to cause back pain. For decades—if not centuries—doctors assumed that physical “wear and tear,” along with a genetic predisposition for disc degeneration, was the culprit. But while it’s certainly plausible that increasing loads and demands on the back would accelerate degeneration, it may be more complicated than that. In fact, a recent study of twins in Canada, the United States, and Scandinavia found that despite often “extraordinary differences” between twin siblings in the stresses placed on their spines throughout their lives—through work and recreational activity—there was no difference in the extent of their disc degeneration. The study even suggested that regular “wear and tear” may actually be protective of disc health.

Read Dr. Hughes' full column for "Doctors on Call: Advice and Insight from the Frontlines of Medicine" at menshealth.com.

 

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