Faulty spinal disc ‘body clock’ can cause back pain

faulty spine

Spinal discs have an internal 24-hour ‘body clock’ that can cause lower back pain when it malfunctions, according to a new study.

The University of Manchester study found that getting a good night’s sleep can protect this body clock and help avoid disc problems later in life.

Over 80% of the UK population will experience some form of back pain within their lifetime. Progressive degeneration of the spine disc is a major contributing factor.

Daily changes to the spine

As a consequence of our daily activity and resting cycle, people are taller in the mornings by up to 2cm.

Dr Qing-Jun Meng, who led the research, believes the discovery of body clocks in the disc could help explain the science behind this change.

The system in which the spine extends and contracts is regulated by the internal 24-hour body clock, which is present in the disc tissue.

The research team tracked a protein showing the presence of the clock using bioluminescent markers.

In mice, removing the body clock from cells in the discs caused the discs to become thinner by nearly a third in just six months.

After a year, there was evidence of fibrosis - the thickening and scarring of connective tissue prevalent in human degenerative disc.

Ageing and shift work 

This accelerated ageing of the disc shows that having a robust body clock can help slow down spinal ageing.

Ageing and shift work - especially night shifts - can damage our body clocks.

Avoiding night working or shift work is believed to help prevent lower back pain.

The study also found that taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to match the body clock could help.

The findings are published in the journal Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases.

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