NYTimes.com – People who regularly run or walk briskly appear to have healthier discs in their spines than people who do not exercise, according to one of the first studies to closely examine links between movement and disc health.

The findings refute a widely held belief that activities like running might overtax the spine and indicate that, instead, they make it sturdier.

The human spine is a complicated mechanism, composed of vertebral bones cushioned between intervertebral discs. These discs, shaped like tiny whoopee cushions, contain a viscous fluid that compresses and absorbs pressure during movement, keeping the back in good working form.

With age, disease or injury, spinal discs can degenerate and bulge, resulting in back pain, which can be debilitating.

Until recently, scientists and clinicians had believed that people could do little to strengthen their spinal discs, although they obviously could injure them. Muscles and bones respond to the physical strains of movement by becoming larger and stronger. But most experts thought that spinal discs remain impervious to this process and might in fact be harmed by the jarring from running.

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Dr. Brendan Boyle DPTAll too often I hear from my patients that they are hesitant to begin higher impact exercise, such as brisk walking or running, because they are worried about causing damage to their hips, knees, or back. The good news is that the most recent evidence not only shows that these activities are safe for your body but may also protect your joints and discs from damage! If you’re unsure how to begin a walking or running program due to previous injuries, consider consulting a physical therapist at PPT or scheduling a running analysis!