A new research study published in Scientific Reports has shown that running may strengthen human intervertebral discs. The study reported that men and women who participate in a running exercise program may cause the discs to hypertrophy and remain healthy over long periods of time compared to non-runners.
The five-year study looked at men and women between the ages of 25 and 35 and separated them into three groups: those who were inactive; those who ran between 20-30 kilometers (12-19 miles) per week; and those who ran over 50 kilometers (31 miles) per week. All participants underwent MRI testing of the lumbar spine. Intervertebral disc characteristics and lumbar muscle morphology were recorded for each participant.
The data show that there was better hydration of the discs on MRI for those who engaged in jogging and long distance running compared to the inactive group.
Repetitive loading of the lumbar spine is usually associated with disc degeneration, especially at the lower lumbar levels. Interestingly, this study shows that repetitive loading of the lumbar spine may actually be beneficial to the lower lumbar intervertebral discs. However, this is an initial study and further research needs to be performed in this area to help better define exercise protocols.