Anti-Aging Exercise for your Lower Back – Good Nourishment is the Key

The discs in the spine age and degenerate just like all of the other structures in the body. However, today’s sedentary lifestyles often speed up this process. We cannot apply anti-ageing creams or lotions to our discs, but certain exercises can help to maximize the discs nourishment.

The Theory: Disc Nutrition

The discs are fluid-filled gel-like structures that act as shock absorbers in the spine. They are found between each segment of bone throughout the spine. The discs slowly lose some of this fluid through the daytime under the effects of gravity. The fluid is then drawn back into the disc when we sleep at night in an unloaded position. This movement of fluid is critical for disc health as discs nutrition is provided from this exchange, and the volume exchanged must remain balanced. Unfortunately, sedentary individuals may be encouraging a negative fluid balance. It has been shown that sitting or standing statically for as little as 1 to 2 hours significantly increases the outflow of fluid. This process leads to the first step in disc degeneration. The disc becomes ‘dehydrated’ and mechanically ineffective when it tries to distribute the body’s load. This initial change often presents as the mild ache you feel when sitting for long periods.

The Degeneration Cycle

Over time the disc reduces in height and becomes less compliant. Globally the spine loses flexibility and therefore cannot create enough pressure on the disc to effectively and sufficiently move the fluid in and out. The disc receives less nutrition and has difficulty removing waste products. The cycle continues and may cause a break down of the structure of the disc. This stage relates to when back pain becomes more chronic in nature, and additional disc damage and pain can occur from minor activities.

The good news

Traction exercise completed on a daily basis can halt and even reverse this process. The overall aim is to improve the fluid flow mechanism in the disc and ultimately increase disc height and health as it rehydrates.

Where to start?

Any exercise to ‘traction’ or ‘decompress’ the lumbar spine can help. An example is shown below using a yoga block (approx. 7cm height), placed below the beltline

  • Spend 1 minute relaxing in this position
  • Remove the block and rest for 30 seconds
  • Repeat this process 3 times in 1 session
  • 1 session should be completed around midday, and a further session prior to sleeping.

Other Important Factors

  • The exercise should be carried out in the evening. This is when the disc has been maximally compressed from daytime activity. Traction allows the discs to take in fluid more efficiently during the night hours when the spine is unweighted.
  • If you normally exercise immediately after working at the office all day, use the traction exercise as part of your warm-up to ‘decompress’ the discs. This will reduce the stress on the disc during your exercise routine.
  • Added benefits This position stretches the muscles and other soft tissues at the front of the spine and hips, which are often tight from many hours spent in working postures.
  • The stretch can create better alignment of the upper body making you stand straighter, which is important for maximum recovery following a lower back injury.

Caution Assessment by a Physiotherapist is strongly recommended prior to starting the above exercise. If you already have lower back pain you may also require hands-on treatment from a therapist to physically mobilise a particularly stiff spinal segment for the above exercise to be more effective.

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