Member Case Study: Preventing Degenerative Processes in the Spine due to Running/Biking

author : AMSSM
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Is there any current literature or recommendations on this subject, and when do you know it's time to stop activities like running before the damage is done or worsened?

Question from umbach

Ok, it has been said that many over the age of thirty have some degree of degenerative changes in their spine (specifically lumbar) and any activity that causes extreme axial loading (i.e. running, squats) should be avoided. So, is there any current literature or recommendations on this subject, and when do you know it's time to stop activities like running before the damage is done or worsened? I'm speaking from someone who currently has no back problems and has turned to the tri lifestyle to get and stay healthy for a long time.

Answer

Your concerns are certainly legitimate for someone who runs and bikes a lot.

The degree of repetitive motion and pounding to the lower back during running is unparalleled by any other sport or activity. During running the feet strike the ground anywhere from 800 to 2,000 times per mile depending on the runner's stride length and pace. the impact generated on the heel is three times that of walking and may exceed 450 pounds at the point of heel strike. This repetitive ground force is transmitted to the spine producing compression, loading and wear and tear on the muscles, bones, joints, ligaments and certainly discs.

A study was performed by a physical therapist named T. White to determine the compressive effects of long distance running on vertebral discs. The study revealed, that despite the natural curves of the spine absorbing a lot of the compressive forces, a greater amount of disc height was lost during one hour of running than during 71/2 hours of inactivity. Of course a triathlete isn't going to spend 7 1/2 hours inactive unless they are sleeping. The only problem with this study is that it doesn't address whether the disc height returns to normal after running or during inactivity.

Recommendations include doing anything to reduce ground forces on heel strike and that, in turn, will decrease wear and tear on the spine. Purchase shoes with greater shock absorption of the inner and outer soles as well as running on surfaces that are more forgiving such as rubberized tracks, grass, even clay and asphalt which are preferable to concrete. Varying the terrain itself will decrease stresses to the spine by changing those areas affected. Uphill running should be avoided if you have a disc injury because this increases forward flexion and disc compression. Running in a pool is the ultimate in reducing ground forces. It is also extremely important to maintain good spinal and hamstring flexibility.

A famous running coach once said that runners are "Cardiovascular wonders and orthopedic wrecks." Something to keep in mind as you set out for your morning run.

Hope this answers your questions.


Sincerely,

Doug Borkowski MD
Riverdale, New Jersey

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date: July 17, 2005

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The American Medical Society for Sports Medicine (AMSSM) was formed in 1991 to fill a void that has existed in sports medicine from its earliest beginnings. The founders most recognized and expert sports medicine specialists realized that while there are several physician organizations which support sports medicine, there has not been a forum specific for primary care non-surgical sports medicine physicians.

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The American Medical Society for Sports Medicine (AMSSM) was formed in 1991 to fill a void that has existed in sports medicine from its earliest beginnings. The founders most recognized and expert sports medicine specialists realized that while there are several physician organizations which support sports medicine, there has not been a forum specific for primary care non-surgical sports medicine physicians.

FIND A SPORTS MEDICINE DOCTOR

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