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Chiropractic Research Review

Inactivity May Impair Disc Health

The daily cycle of upright posture followed by laying down to sleep continually alters the compressive loads on the spinal discs. This leads to fluid and nutrient flow into the discs, and waste products flowing out of each disc.

Studies have previously measured changes in disc characteristics and fluid volume, but these studies did not involve continuous measurements throughout a daily cycle. Understanding fluid dynamics of the disc may help chiropractors better understand disc health and disease.

Volume and fluid content of four levels of intervertebral discs (from L1 to L5) in five healthy subjects were charted
image - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark
using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Scans were done on the 21- to 32-year-old subjects at the end of one day of normal activity involving sitting periods not to exceed 30 minutes of every hour; immediately following eight hours rest; and 10 times over an eight-hour period on the second day, between 40-minute walking sessions. All scans were taken with subjects in a supine position.

Results: Disc volume increased in all discs by an average of 10.6% during the overnight resting period, and decreased steadily throughout the following day as subjects alternated walking and reclining for the MRI scans. At the end of the walking periods (approximately 3 p.m. the afternoon of the second day), disc volumes remained higher than they had been the previous evening at approximately 11 p.m., however.

A two-way transfer of large amounts of fluid is optimal for disc health. The authors suggest that this transfer of fluid appears to be gradual, and that extended inactivity throughout the day may reduce the necessary fluid exchange in intervertebral discs; reduced fluid transport may inhibit metabolism within discs.

Malko JA, Hutton WC, Fajman WA. An in vivo MRI study of the changes in volume (and fluid content) of the lumbar intervertebral disc after overnight bed rest and during an 8-hour walking protocol. Journal of Spinal Disorders 2002:15(2), pp. 157-163.

Chiropractic Research Review

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