Lifetime exercise and disk degeneration: an MRI study of monozygotic twins

Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1997 Oct;29(10):1350-6. doi: 10.1097/00005768-199710000-00012.


Participation in some competitive sports has been shown to increase disk degeneration; however, the long-term effects of recreational physical activities are unclear. We investigated the effects of endurance exercise and power sports on disk degeneration in monozygotic male twins with contrasting lifetime exercise histories. The effects of endurance exercise were studied in 22 discordant twin pairs (mean lifetime frequencies of 3.9 vs 1.1 times/wk), and the effects of power sports were investigated in 12 discordant pairs (2,300 vs 200 h of weightlifting). The age range of the twins was from 35 to 69 yr. No differences in MRI findings between co-twins discordant for endurance exercise were found at any of the spinal regions. Subjects with more power sport involvement had greater disk degeneration in the T6-T12 region (P < 0.03), but similar findings were not present in the lumbar spine. Controlling for recalled back injuries, occupational loading, smoking, and driving did not significantly affect the results. No signs of beneficial or harmful effects of lifetime endurance exercise on disk degeneration were seen. Increased power sport participation was associated with slightly greater disk degeneration in the lower thoracic spine, but not in the lumbar spine.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Twin Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Diseases in Twins / diagnosis*
  • Diseases in Twins / etiology*
  • Exercise*
  • Finland
  • Humans
  • Intervertebral Disc Displacement / diagnosis*
  • Intervertebral Disc Displacement / etiology*
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / pathology
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Physical Endurance
  • Sports
  • Statistics, Nonparametric
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Thoracic Vertebrae / pathology
  • Twins, Monozygotic