Spine Pain and Our Body Clock

New research from across the pond suggests that our spinal discs are impacted by our circadian rhythm, and if our sleep schedule gets out of whack, back pain can flare up.

More than 90 percent of Americans will experience back pain at some point in their lives, be it from a pulled muscle, a slipped disc or a spinal fracture, and this new research is the first to show a link between body-clock interruptions and spine pain. Our body clock – oftentimes referred to as our circadian rhythm – is a 24-hour cycle in the physiological processes of living beings, be it humans, plants or animals. Researchers uncovered that manipulating and interuptting this cycle led to numerous problems in the spine.

“If you [manipulate the] body clock from cells in the disc in mice, within six months degeneration is very noticeable and the disc is thinner by 20 to 30 percent,” said Professor Judith Hoyland. “Within 12 months we’ve found evidence of fibrosis – the thickening and scarring of connective tissue prevalent in human degenerative discs.”

Spinal Disc Body Clocks

The team of researchers noted that overnight workers, individuals who work irregular shifts and people who have a tough time falling asleep may be at risk for spine pain because their spinal discs can’t stay in a steady circadian cycle.

“The discovery of body clocks in the disc may go some way to explain for the first time the science behind this rhythmic physiology of the spine,” said Dr. Qing-Jun Meng, who also worked on the study. “Our research shows this system is regulated by our internal body clock and when the body clock ceases to work properly during aging or in shift workers, lower back pain is more likely. Looking after your body clock will help manage or delay the onset of your back pain.”

Interestingly, researchers also uncovered that some painkillers may be more effective during the day when our bodies are refreshed and energized. So while it may be easier said than done, if you can strive to regularly get eight hours of sleep each night, you might find your spine pain subsiding.

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