New Disc Replacement Devised By Engineers To Treat Chronic Low Back Pain

As people age, the muscle elasticity, bone strength and muscle tone tend to decrease. It also leads to disc losing its fluid which causes decreased flexibility and therefore the ability to cushion the vertebrae is lost. This causes severe pain to the person suffering from his condition, pain maybe experienced while picking up heavy objects or overstretching the muscles. It may also lead to spine compression, or the disc being ruptured or bulging. This in turn leads to pressurizing the 50 nerves that are rooted to the spinal cord which are associated with body movements and transmission of signals.

Lower back pain is usually caused due to trauma or injury to the back, but can also be caused by degenerative diseases such as arthritis and osteoporosis. Viral infections, joint and disc irritation, bone diseases and congenital abnormalities are also few of the causes.

Conditions Associated with Lower Back pain

Pain in the lower back results in bulging disc, also known as herniated or ruptured disc.  There are 23 Oreo biscuit sized discs which are filled with cartilage. This helps to hold the spine intact and also allows for easy mobility of the spine.

When the disc degenerates or and weakens, it results in the bulging of the cartilage or it may get worse and be pushed into the space that contains the nerve root or spinal cord which further results in severe back pain. Degenerated or herniated discs are a major cause of back pain in America; nearly 85% of Americans suffer from the condition and causes a drain of $100 billion every year to the US economy.

New Device to Treat Back Pain

A new biomedical device has been developed for treatment of chronic back pain surgically. It makes use of an artificial spinal disc which duplicates the natural spine motion. This innovative discovery has been licensed from Brigham Young University to company based in Utah.

The artificial disc idea was originally conceived by Anton Bowden and Larry Howell, both engineering professors, along with Brigham Young University alum, Peter Halverson. The technology will be developed by Crocker Spinal Technologies, which was founded b y BYU President’s Leadership Council member Gary Crocker and is headed by David Hawkers, BYU MBA graduate.

A study of the mechanism of this new device has been published by the researchers in the International Journal of Spine Surgery. According to the report, the device has the potential to alleviate back pain as well as restore the functioning of the spine. This is not made possible by current available procedures.

At present the most common surgical procedure for treating chronic lower back pain is spinal fusion surgery. The degenerative disc is replaced by bone so as to fuse together adjacent segments, thus preventing motion- generated pain. However, less than 50% patients are satisfied after the surgery.

Thus the solution lies in the new innovative technique developed by Crocker Spinal Technologies. It consists of a compliant mechanism that helps in natural spine movement; its main aim is to restore function of a healthy spinal disc.

The compliant mechanisms constitute of elastic structures free from joints that uses flexibility as a means to generate movement just like a normal pair of tweezers or bow and arrow. A leading expert in the field of compliant mechanism is Larry Howell, the original mind behind the innovative technology.

According to Howell, it is very difficult to imitate the response of the spine because of the space constraints as well as sophisticated mechanism of the spine and its parts. Compliant mechanisms have the ability to be natural and human like, and the mechanism created has been designed to behave like a healthy disc.

First prototypes were built by BYU student-engineers, under the guidance of Howell and Bowden. These prototypes were then machine tested and later tested in cadaveric spines. The results if the test showed that the artificial disc behaved the same way as a human healthy disc.

This innovative device is a radical step forward in the advancement of spine technology and will rid patients from fusion which does not have desirable effects.

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