My 22-year old nephew just had surgery for a disc problem. He doesn't even have a job lifting or carrying heavy objects. How can he have a herniated disc at his age?
Recent studies have dispelled the notion that age and manual labor are the main risk factors for disc disease. We now know that genetics plays the most important role in the development of disc bulging and herniation.
Patients who are diagnosed with disc protrusion at a young age have a high rate of family members with this same problem. In fact, someone with a disc problem before age 21 is four or five times more likely to have a positive family history of disc disease.
This doesn't mean that other factors aren't important. Besides genetic factors, lifestyle and nutrition can make a difference. Sustained positions at the end range of motion can create an environment of load and stress. But lifting heavy loads hasn't been directly linked with disc degeneration. In fact, competitive weight lifters have fewer disc problems than the average adult.
Many people are affected by degenerative disc disease every year in the U.S. Researchers are actively studying patient groups trying to find cause and effect. If modifiable (changeable) risk factors can be identified, then prevention may be more likely.