Moderate-intensity running causes intervertebral disc compression in young adults

Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2012 Nov;44(11):2199-204. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e318260dbc1.


Background: Decreased intervertebral disc (IVD) volume can result in diminished load-carrying capacity of the spinal region. Although moderate-intensity running is generally advocated for apparently healthy adults, running causes a loss in stature that is thought to reflect IVD compression. The aim of this investigation was to use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to quantify the influence of moderate-intensity treadmill running on IVD height and volume in the thoracic and lumbar regions of the vertebral column.

Methods: A clinic-based repeated-measures design was used in eight healthy young asymptomatic adults. After preliminary measurements and familiarization (day 1), participants reported to the clinic on two further occasions. MRI scans and stature measurements were completed at baseline (day 2), preexercise (day 3), and after 30 min of moderate-intensity treadmill running (postexercise, day 3). Mean height and volume were derived for all thoracic and lumbar IVDs from digitized MRIs, and stature was determined with a stadiometer.

Results: Moderate-intensity running resulted in 6.3% ± 0.9% reduction in mean IVD height and 6.9% ± 1.0% reduction in calculated IVD volume. The day-to-day variation in mean IVD height and volume were 0.6% ± 0.6% and 0.4% ± 0.6%, respectively.

Conclusions: This is the first study to quantify the influence of moderate-intensity running on IVD height and volume. Changes in IVD height and volume were observed throughout the thoracic and lumbar vertebral regions. These findings suggest that future studies evaluating the influence of various loading activities and recovery techniques on IVD structure should consider thoracic as well as lumbar regions of the spine.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Exercise Test
  • Humans
  • Intervertebral Disc / anatomy & histology
  • Intervertebral Disc / physiology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Physical Exertion / physiology*
  • Running / physiology*
  • Weight-Bearing / physiology
  • Young Adult