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Is there anything I can do to prevent disc problems?

Physical Therapy in Grapevine for Lower Back

Q: Everyone in my family has had disc problems. I'm the youngest (44 years old). Is there anything I can do to prevent disc problems?

A: Scientists have some evidence that genetics plays a role in disc degeneration and eventual disc herniation. But not everyone who has disc problems has a positive family history like you do. The cumulative injury model suggests that a history of physical activities or other stresses and loads on the disc may explain some of these injuries.

And, of course, it's possible that some people have both going on at the same time: genetics and repetitive loading on the spine. There's not much you can do about your inherited traits. Engaging in core training activities for the trunk, back, and abdominal muscles is believed to be preventive. But this hasn't been completely proven yet.

Likewise, there is a belief that using proper lifting techniques can help decrease the risk of back injuries that lead to disc herniations. But it is a fact that most disc herniations are not really caused by a specific movement or activity.

In fact, it is estimated that only about eight per cent of adults with back pain from disc herniations can point to a specific traumatic event such as lifting. And only one per cent come from falls or car accidents.

That brings us right back to ways that disc degeneration can be avoided. More studies are needed but for now it looks like the following formula may help. Good nutrition, keeping the weight off, avoiding tobacco, and maintaining a good balance of strengthening and stretching exercises may be the best approach.

Reference: Pradeep Suri, MD, et al. Inciting Events Associated with Lumbar Disc Herniation. In The Spine Journal. May 2010. Vol. 10. No. 5. Pp. 388-395.