Are we wearing out?
It is a common held belief that disc degeneration of the spine is a result of aging and ‘wear & Tear’ from mechanical overload or injury. However recent research strongly disputes this argument!
The Twin Study: Disc Degeneration
The Twin Spine Study which initially started in 1991 looked at both identical and fraternal twins over a number of years. The result found that degeneration was more closely linked to heredity factors rather than ‘occupation, leisure time or physical loading conditions’ in adulthood. This means that if one twin worked in a physically demanded job his spine was very similar, or just as healthy, as his sibling who worked in a sedentary office job. In fact routine physical loading of the back seemed to be more beneficial. As did a higher body mass and greater lifting strength!
Occupations believed to previously affect backs due to whole body vibration such as prolonged driving where found to be safe. Smoking did lead to a moderate increase in disc degeneration.
The Advice for Backs
So it seems the key message is to keep active, move your body and don’t be frightened of physical loading. Spines like to move around – which doesn’t wear them out – it keeps them healthy! However if you’re not used to an activity then gradually exposing yourself to the task is sensible. Your body will adapt to how it’s used (i.e gradually increase load, practice lifting lighter to heavier weights or slowly increase the difficulty of the exercise). And most important of all keep it fun – do stuff you enjoy!