01 Mar 2017 - Back pain link to 24-hour body clock revealed

Copyright © Wellcome trust centre for Cell-Matrix Research

New research has for the first time shown that our spinal discs have 24-hour body clocks which when they malfunction, can contribute to lower back pain. Lower back pain is amongst the most prevalent spinal diseases associated with increasing age, with over 80% of the UK population predicted to experience back pain within their lifetime. Progressive degeneration of the spine disc is a major contributing factor.

Ageing and inflammation are major causes of disc degeneration and lower back pain. In this research, both conditions were found to cause body clock malfunction. Getting a good night’s sleep will protect our body clocks and potentially avoid disc problems later in life. Avoiding night working where possible, or working fixed regular hours, as opposed to rotating shift work will also help.

Additionally, the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs we take for back pain will be more effective if we take into account our natural body clock cycle, by timing treatment to anticipate pain.

It has been known for years that, as a consequence of the daily activity and resting cycle, we are taller in the mornings by up to 2cm more than when we go to bed. 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.

Our research shows that this system is regulated by our internal body clock and when the body clock ceases to work properly during ageing or in shift workers, lower back pain is more likely to become an issue. Looking after your body clock will help manage or delay the onset of your back pain. And based on our findings, we hope that one day, we may be able to combine NSAIDs with clock targeting compounds to provide a more powerful solution.

Dudek, M., Yang, N., Ruckshanthi, J.P.D., Williams, J., Borysiewicz, E., Wang, P., Adamson, A., Li, J., Bateman, J.F., White, M.R., Boot-Handford, R.P., Hoyland, J.A. and Meng, Q.-J. (2016) The intervertebral disc contains intrinsic circadian clocks that are regulated by age and cytokines and linked to degeneration. Ann Rheum Dis. 76, 576-584. PubMed