Who is really most at risk for back injuries? It must be older people because they all have bad backs.
It is actually younger people that are more at risk for disc ruptures, herniations, and bulges. These injuries can be seriously debilitating for those inflicted.
There is a wide array of symptoms from disc issues including stiffness, weakness, numbness, and flat out pain. Depending on which discs are affected, the symptoms may vary. Issues in cervical (neck) spine can be felt in the head, neck, and shoulders.
Lower back issues can be felt in the hips and even down the leg. Sciatic pain is very common when the low back discs are injured (especially L5).
Strength and mobility in the lower body are compromised due to this injury. Even normal walking patterns are altered if the issue is serious enough.
We can back up for a second and look at what puts people at risk for these injuries. Repeated flexion of the spine is culprit number 1. The back can only flex so many times before injury occurs.
Adding a load to this flexed pattern can be especially hazardous. If you do not think you are adding loads to a flexed back, you are wrong. There is no one who perfectly sets their back and keeps neutral spine when picking things up off the ground.
This can be groceries, books, anything. This is why training in neutral spine is especially important. The path of least resistance for the body is to just flex at the spine, when it needs to be stabilized.
Culprit number 2 is sitting. Sitting puts a lot of compressive loads on the back and is a huge risk factor for injury. How much time do you spend sitting everyday?
Trying to minimize time spent sitting in one position can do a lot in preventing pain from disc issues.
So why are young people at high risk for disc injuries?
The discs are filled with a fluid like substance inside of them. Their function is to cushion the vertebrae of the spinal column.
When the discs are hydrated, they can almost “slide” within the vertebrae that are not in proper alignment (flexed). A neutral spine allows the discs to sit comfortably and prevents any exposure. The discs become exposed in a flexed position which, in severe cases, causes the discs to bulge out from the vertebrae.
A disc will rupture when it is squeezed to the point that the fluid leaves the disc.
The older we get, the less fluid that is in the discs (making older populations more susceptible to fractures). When the discs are younger they are at a higher risk to bulge and rupture.
Remember to minimize how much the spine is flexing and how much load is added to a flexed spine. The back does not need to flex and it can be dangerous.
Someone in their 20’s or 30’s (or anyone) does not want to be going to the chiropractor weekly or taking a long time off from work to have surgery.
Be aware that doing things the wrong way does have its consequences. Take the right preventative steps and you will be better prepared to keep the body healthy.
One last consideration
The discs are over hydrated upon waking up in the morning. It takes about 1 hour for the fluid to return to normal levels. This means that the discs can be on the move much easier for those that train early in the morning.
Maintain neutral spine and minimize trunk flexion to prevent problems. Reduce the amount of loading directly on the back if you roll out of bed and go to the gym.
You could also take the time to wake up a little bit earlier and eat a good breakfast.