Morning exercise has never been my ‘thing’, and for good reason. Our our spinal discs are more susceptible to stress in the morning when compared to the afternoon and evening. For this very reason, one may put themselves at a greater risk for a disc related injury. To understand this concept, we must look at the diurnal changes associated with spine biomechanics.
During the day, we constantly place compressive forces on our spine from activities such as walking, sitting, running, etc. And with all these compressive forces, they will cause fluid to be expelled from the discs throughout the day, which will cause the disc to shrink in size and radially bulge. As this happens, our spinal height will decrease and we become shorter as the day goes on (we tend to be the shortest just before we got to bed). Now, as we go to sleep though, we assume a static decompressive state (laying down), that allows for our spinal discs to absorb fluid and expand in height. Upon being in this decompressive state for several hours and waking up in the morning, our spinal discs tend to be fully hydrated from the static decompressive state. This increased fluid content in our spinal discs upon waking up will make our lumbar spine more resistant to bending movements. The disc itself resists all the compressive force on the spine in the morning and is much more highly stressed during flexion and extension movement. Adams, Dolan & Hutton (1987) estimated that these bending stress on the lumbar discs and ligaments can be increased by about 300% and 80% respectively in the early morning when compared to the evening. This is a pretty significant increase if you ask me and this lead to Adams & Colleagues concluding that there is an increased risk of injury to these tissues in the morning while bending.
Also, if we look to a more recent study conducted by Snook and colleagues and which I did a previous post on, Snook (1998) found that by removing full lumbar flexion in the morning reduced back symptoms in people with non-specific lower back pain. As we can see, based on the research provided, people are at a much greater risk for spinal disc and ligament related injuries in the lumbar spine. This one of the main reasons why I personally do not exercise in the morning, nor do I advise it. Now, keep in mind when I’m referring to exercise, I’m specifically referring to exercise that involves spinal motion! Exercise such as walking or jogging tend to be okay, but if one can avoid activities like sitting in the morning, it could go a long way in maintaining good spinal disc health.
Lastly, I’d just like to mention that as we engage in various compressive activities throughout the day, our spinal discs expel fluid, bulge, shrink and become less resistant to flexion movement. Normally most of the fluid expulsion may take place in the first hour upon waking up and moving around, but as we continue on throughout the day, their tends to be a subtle, yet gradual decline as well. This would indicate that exercise later in the day may be the safest and best for our spinal discs. However if one were insistent on exercising in the morning, it may best to wait at least 1 hour and take part in an efficient warm up.
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