Back Problems Linked To Job, Not Fitness

Herniated lumbar disc disease hospitalization risk not reduced by staying fit

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) Back pain is more common among those who do not get enough exercise. But does exercise really matter to certain conditions like herniated lumbar disc disease?

A recent study looked at the link between physical fitness and herniated lumbar disc disease, a painful condition of the spine.

The study found no connection between physical fitness levels and the lower back condition. The study did find an increase in herniated lumbar disc disease among those whose job required strenuous physical activity.

"Discuss the physical requirements of your job with your doctor."

Marie Jorgensen, PhD, of The National Research Centre for the Working Environment in Copenhagen, Denmark, and colleagues examined data from an existing study of 5,249 Danish men between 1970 and 1971. Participants completed questionnaires about medical history, working conditions, lifestyle and socioeconomic situation.

The men were measured for height and weight. They were also asked to complete a bicycle test to determine their physical fitness level.

The researchers gathered information from the National Hospital Register (NHR) to determine if the men had been hospitalized for herniated lumbar disc disease between 1977 and 2003.

The NHR is a database of all Danish hospital admissions since 1977.

Of the men included in the study, 3,833 men did not have a history of low back disorders. Sixty-four of the men without a history of low back disorders were eventually hospitalized due to herniated lumbar disc disease.

Men who had a high level of physical fitness and those who had a low level of physical fitness were both hospitalized for herniated lumbar disc disease at a rate of 1.7 percent.

While the data did not show that physical fitness levels were connected to herniated lumbar disc disease, it did show the condition was linked to strenuous activity at work. Examples of strenuous activity in this study included lifting heavy objects and keeping awkward body positions.

Strenuous activity may be harmful because it can overload tissues of the lower back.

Leisure time spent in physical activity has been shown to reduce the risk of low back disorders in past studies, but this study made no connection between leisure time, physical activity and herniated lumbar disc disease.

"Herniated discs can occur with a strenuous work load such as repetitive lifting with poor body mechanics but also with prolonged sitting with poor posture," Diane Shiao, PT, MSPT, DPT of Revive Physical Therapy and Wellness in Edison, New Jersey told dailyRx.

"Stretching exercises can help reduce overall muscle tension and core strengthening can support the spine and trunk," added Dr. Shiao.

The study was published in BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders.

The authors reported no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
March 13, 2013
Last Updated:
March 18, 2013