As a cause of back pain disc injuries, often called herniations or prolapses, are only one amongst many.
However, as an estimated 80% of asymptomatic individuals show signs of them on MRI scans, disc injuries should not be ignored as an unimportant contributor to wear and tear.
Even if not impinging on nerve tissue, herniated discs increase load on spinal joints. This in itself can lead to back pain and spondylosis (osteoarthritis affecting the spine).
It is universally accepted that exercise is helpful for back pain of all causes, and lots of research is being done to determine which exercises are best for which types of low back problem.
Generally speaking exercises are designed to improve the coordination, strength and endurance of spinal stabilisers, thereby improving their ability to protect the spine from micro-traumas. Typically exercises involve high repetitions of low load.
But now new research is hinting at possibility of exercises aiding the regeneration of spinal discs.
Animal studies suggest that high load, low dose exercise may induce potentially rejuvenating mechanisms.
Improvements in protein manufacture and nutrient transport that may aid disc repair have been observed. A decrease in the rate at which disc cells are destroyed has also been seen.
This goes against observations from high load, high dose exercise which can lead to increased damage to discs over time.
Although this research is in very early stages, and has not been replicated in human studies, it does pose a very real possibility of opening the door for non-surgical cures for disc injuries.
With further study, a combination of exercise approaches may be found that allows wear and tear of the spine to be controlled and even remedied.