Disc height loss is a common thread in the work-up of spine related pain. Our models showcase disc height loss in a dynamic way to help convey load dynamics and changes over the life-cycle of a human as well as diurnal variations.

disc herniations, sequestered lumbar disc herniation

Goal of the article?

The goal of this study, 1 is to examine why there is an increasing incidence of disc herniation in young people. 

 

Why are they doing this review?

Disc herniation is often the result of natural degeneration changes accompanied by age as the vertebral discs lose water and become less resilient and less responsive to dynamic shock. However, increasingly, disc herniations are appearing in younger people. The cause of this early degeneration is most likely from inactivity sustained by static compressive loads, as well as other factors such as smoking, obesity, familial predisposition and other factors like prolonged sitting. As this can have long-term implications, understanding causes and potential treatments of early degeneration is critical to minimizing the negative outcomes for individuals and society at large.

 

What was done?

This is a prospective study with a total of 33 young patients, all with extruded lumbar disc herniations managed by conservative or surgical approaches between 2017 and 2018. On average, patients were 25 years old. In addition to age, the researchers asked each patient about smoking, familial predisposition, sporting activity, and occupation. They measured pain using a visual analog scale (VAS) and measured patients’ BMI. All patients had lumbar MRI imaging.

 

Helping patients understand compressive loads with a Dynamic Disc Model

 

What did they find?

The researchers found that 18 patients (8 females and 10 males) had a disc extrusion at the L5-S1 level, 12 patients (8 females and 4 males) had a disc extrusion at the L4 and L5 level, and 3 patients had a disc extrusion at both the L4-L5 and L5-S1 levels. Motor deficits were detected in 4 patients who then required surgical treatment. For these patients, three procedures involved the L4-L5; one had right L5 radiculopathy and motor deficit, while the others were on the left side. 

The remaining 29 patients were treated conservatively with physical therapy and pain medication. They were given information on ergonomics and help with stopping smoking. In follow-up, the VAS scores were reduced, and all patients had lost weight. However, only three patients had quit smoking.

When the researchers looked at occupations, they found that all patients sat during the day and lacked movement. They also found that 61% of the patients were smokers and the mean BMI was 32.5 kg/m2.  Additionally, in line with existing research, this study found that familial predisposition with lumbar disc herniation played a role. 

 

Why do these findings matter?

Understanding factors contributing to early disc degeneration can help patients make lifestyle changes that can postpone pain and mobility issues. 

Disc Nucleus

Goal of the review?

The goal of the article, 1 explores the molecular level of intervertebral disc degeneration. Specifically, the authors examine the correlation between proteolytic enzymes, microvascular formation, or neve fibre ingrowth in the intervertebral disc nucleus. 

 

Why are they doing this review?

To aid in diagnosis and treatment, the authors argue that it is important to understand the molecular level of disc degeneration and the functional changes that accompany degenerative IVD. By measuring the extracellular matrix components, such as collagen in the disc nucleus tissue, the relationship between the degrees of degeneration of the intervertebral disc (IVD) is analyzed. 

 

 

What was done?

They selected 40 patients for the case group, all of whom had degenerative disc nucleus pulposus (NP) and were admitted to the hospital. The inclusion criteria for this group were the presence of lumbar degenerative disease and cervical spondylosis. Additionally, they selected 20 healthy subjects for the control group, with inclusion criteria of cervical vertebra and lumbar vertebra injury caused by trauma. There was no significant difference in demographic characteristics, including age, gender, and other variables. 

The researchers took blood and NP tissue from each participant and stored the samples at 80º. They then carried out H&E staining and immunohistochemical staining to observe cathepsins such as aminopeptidase and vascular endothelial positive cells. Finally, they used statistical software to determine correlations.

 

What did they find?

In the normal group, the researchers found that following H&E staining, chondrocytes were clustered in the cartilage depression, and matrix staining was more uniform. In contrast, the chondrocytes were reduced for the case group, and the nucleus was stained or disappeared. When looking at immunohistochemical staining results, the normal group had little or no expression of aminopeptidase N (APN) and leucine aminopeptidase (LAP). However, in the patient group, APN and LAP were expressed in the degenerative IVD. These are important findings as a positive correlation between APN and LAP and degenerative changes to the IVD. Research shows that degenerative changes in the IVD tissue are associated with neovascularization. The appearance of proteolytic enzymes such as APN in the IVD and the relationship between microvessel formation and nerve in growth in the IV illustrate changes at the molecular level of disc degeneration. Moreover, the NP tissue was immunohistochemically stained with CD31-labeled VEGF, and the endothelial cells were stained singly or in clusters.

 

Why do these findings matter?

Understanding molecular changes to the IVD will help to diagnose better and treat issues related to degenerative IVD.

The Dynamic Sitting Exercise (DSE)

Life can be busy. And with this busyness, people often do not have the time for lower back pain exercises. In 2010, Jerome Fryer (the owner and developer of Dynamic Disc Designs Corp.) set out to measure a simple seated decompression strategy for the lumbar spine. A pilot study used an upright MRI to investigate changes in the lumbar spine before and after this Dynamic Sitting Exercise (DSE) 1

It was originally coined “chair-care decompression exercise” to make it memorable. In a recent article written in the Indian Journal of Physiotherapy and Occupational Therapy, the researchers renamed it DSE and compared it to the popular McKenzie prone press-up. 2

 

Dynamic Sitting Exercise

Dynamic Sitting Exercise (DSE)

 

McKenzie Prone Press-up

McKenzie Prone Press-up

These researchers recruited thirty adults in the age range of 20-30 years with mechanical low back pain. To read the full inclusion and exclusion criteria, you can visit the full-text link in the references below. They randomly assigned the participants to two groups: the DSE group or the McKenzie prone press-up group. Each subject conducted 6 repetitions within the 5-minute interval with the exercises being conducted at the beginning of the 5 minutes, followed by 4 minutes of rest. Over the course of 30 minutes, each participant would have performed 6 repetitions multiplied by 5 sets for a total of 30 repetitions over the course of 30 minutes. This was equivalent to 2.5 minutes of active exercise over the course of 30 minutes.

Exercise Protocol

Exercise Protocol

 

The DSE instructions included:

  1. sit upright
  2. place hands-on seat pan
  3. push down on the seat pan to offload the lower spine
  4. participants should feel a slight stretching in the lower back
  5. hold for 5 seconds
  6. return to neutral for 5 seconds
  7. while returning to neutral, draw-in-abdomen.

 

The McKenzie Prone Press-Up instructions included:

  1. lie down on the abdomen
  2. extend back while on elbows and palms down (neutral position)
  3. perform press-up maneuver with straight arms for 5 seconds
  4. return to neutral for 5 seconds

 

Over 6 weeks, outcome measures included the Visual Analog Scale for pain and the Short Form-36 Health Survey Questionaire for quality of life.

What did they conclude?

Both forms of exercise demonstrated improvement of pain and quality of life. However, the DSE outperformed the McKenzie Prone Press-up in this group of mechanical low back pain adults.

Overall, this paper could have been written a little better. Their conclusions were bold and overly confident. It is still an important paper to share as the practicality of investing a few seconds of offloading to your work-day while sitting looks to be promising in those with lower back pain in this age range.

 

How Much Does Pelvic Incidence Impact Sitting and Standing Positions

A study 1 in the European Science Journal aimed to observe if (and how) lumbo-pelvic sagittal alignment was likely affected by pelvic incidence (or PI). The results showed a correlation between PI and the change in lumbo-pelvic parameters between sitting and standing positions.

Why conduct such a study?

Over the decades, modern society has urged people to spend large amounts of their day in a sitting position; whether it’s for work, academics, or for leisure. Prolonged periods of sitting are linked to particular health concerns with nonspecific lower back pain in younger people being the most prevalent. That’s why it’s important to study the differences in spinal alignment when a person is standing and sitting as well as the effects of aging.

The current study had an objective to clarify the association of positional change to PI (pelvic incidence) and aging. The purpose was to investigate the difference in lumbo-pelvic sagittal alignment between standing and sitting positions and observe the level of association with PI and a person’s age.

The Study

A total of 253 participants were included (160 men and 93 women). They were divided into three groups. The 20 to 49 age range was the Younger Group, the 50 to 69 years being the Middle Age Group, and the 70 years and more being the Older Group. All of the participants underwent frontal and lateral radiography of the lumbar spine (this included the hip joints) while in sitting as well as standing positions.

lumbar spine

The study analyzed the lumbar lordotic angle (LL), sacral slope (SS), pelvic tilt (PT), pelvic incidence (PI), and the associations between the changes in LL (∆LL), SS (∆SS), PT (∆PT), and PI.

The Kruskal–Wallis test was administered to determine intergroup differences. The differences in lumbo-pelvic parameters between sitting and standing positions were analyzed using the t-test. The Spearman rank correlation coefficient was used to analyze correlations between the variables of lumbo-pelvic parameters.

The Results

The study shared that it couldn’t find a correlation between age and changes in lumbo-pelvic sagittal alignment between the standing and sitting positions. However, take note, these parameters correlated with age at the standing but not in the sitting position. All of the groups showed positive correlations between PI and the changes between sitting and standing positions.

What was concluded?

The study concluded that there’s a correlation when observing a change in lumbo-pelvic parameters (between the sitting and standing positions) and PI. However, the same couldn’t be said when age was involved.

The results showed that PI is an important parameter for estimating the amount of changes in lumbo-pelvic alignment between standing and sitting positions. Furthermore, the data could prove to be beneficial in understanding the link between lower back pain and how people should sit or stand (and for how long).

disc height

In this Spine Education video, Dynamic Disc Designs’ Dr. Jerome Fryer demonstrates the benefits of helping lower back pain patients better understand their condition by using dynamic models and visual aids.

“How often do you encounter a patient that explains that their symptoms are worse as the day progresses?” he asks.

Though clinicians understand the key to a graduating pain syndrome involves a complex biomechanical and biochemical matrix in the spine, back pain patients don’t need extensive medical knowledge to appreciate the dynamics of what is happening in their bodies. A simple visual aid can help clarify and simplify their predicament and potential solutions.

 

Hands-On Demo of Diurnal Expression of Fluid from the Disc

Using a dynamic disc model, Fryer demonstrates the diurnal expression of fluid from the disc as the disc height changes over the course of the day.

“We know that the disc height is tallest in the morning,” he says, holding a fully expanded disc model to the camera and then slowly squeezing the dynamic model to demonstrate the loss of height that occurs throughout the day.

“As the day progresses, the disc height will slowly lose its height [causing the facets] to imbricate or shingle. If a patient [complains] their symptoms are more present as the day progresses, you [use] this graph 1 to demonstrate what’s happening in their spine.

“As the person gets up in the morning, there is a quick change in the disc height in the first 10 minutes,” he says, pointing out a steep curve on the graph.

“As the day progresses, the disc height is lost.”

Annular Disruption in Degenerated Discs Reduce Capacity to Maintain Height

Fryer says the situation can be even more extreme when a patient is suffering from degeneration in the disc because the disc can no longer hold its full height, due to disruption in the annulus.

“Helping patients understand symptoms as the day progresses will help them understand why it hurts,” he says. “That gives you more empowered strategies to help patients get motivated, if its posture, or even recumbency, or exercise, or getting out of a chair to help with the disc height changes. These dynamic disc models are very powerful in helping patients with self-awareness.”

For more information on dynamic disc models and patient teaching aids, visit Dynamic Disc Designs.

biomedical cause, LBP

An Australian study 1 into what male and female lower back pain (LBP) patients believe about the cause of their LBP flair-ups found that the subjects were most likely to attribute the source of their recent pain to biomedical causes, including active movements and static postures, rather than psycho-social factors. Though current evidence points to a positive correlation between mental health issues, including stress, anxiety, and depression, and LBP, few of the patients in this study attributed the onset of LBP flair-ups to psycho-social causes.

What’s at Stake?

LBP is the most common global cause of disability, lost income, and productivity decreases in the marketplace. Post-acute LBP flair-ups contribute to chronic job absenteeism and economic disruption at the individual and collective societal levels. While many studies have investigated the various causes of acute LBP episodes, few have focused on the fluctuations and triggers of LBP flair-ups.

Initial episodes of LBP are considered by health professionals to be overwhelmingly biomedical/biomechanical in origin, and most patients when queried agree with that assumption.

This study was conducted to determine what LBP patients believe about the triggers of their LBP flair-ups, in the hope that better understanding patient views will lead to more effective management of intermittent, non-acute episodes of LBP.

 

Professional LxH Dynamic Disc Model

Professional LxH Dynamic Disc Model

The Study

One hundred and thirty male and female volunteer subjects with episodic LBP participated in the online study by answering questions about their beliefs about the triggers for their flair-ups. Their answers were analyzed for common factors and were then clustered into various themes and codes by similarities. These common codes were further categorized into two overarching themes—biomedical, and non-biomedical triggers.

Overarching Theme: Biomedical Triggers

More than eighty-four percent of the subjects identified their LBP flair-up triggers as biomedical. Active movement and static postures were the most commonly identified biomedical causes for this group’s LBP recurrences. Patients reporting active movement as a trigger for their recurring LBP were most likely to cite bending and twisting as the most frequent instigator of their pain. Many of these patients felt that the quality of these movements played a role in initiating their LBP. In these cases, it was not the movement itself, but the way they performed the movement that caused their pain.

Roughly 5 percent of the patients reporting active movement as the cause of their LBP flair-ups believed it was repetition of the movement that was responsible for their pain. They claimed that “overdoing” a task could lead to LBP episodes.

Some of the patients reporting biomedical triggers believed their LBP was caused by biomechanical dysfunction. Roughly two percent reported motor control issues, and another 2.3 percent blamed their pain on spinal damage of some kind. Other biomedical themes included knee pain, endometriosis, and constipation. Some patients felt their LBP flair-ups were caused by lack of exercise, and others blamed work for their pain. Two percent reported their flair-ups were caused by not taking maintenance pain medications as prescribed.

Other biomechanical causes included participation in sex, wearing the wrong shoes, and medical treatments.

Overarching Theme 2: Non-biomedical Triggers

Only 15.2 percent of the subjects questioned reported non-biomedical triggers as the source of their LBP. Two participants—one male, and one female—believed the cause of their flair-ups to be related to stress or the weather. A few reported psychological factors—including anxiety, the lack of creative outlets, family problems, and depression— as potential triggers of pain.

The patients who claimed the weather was a factor in their pain were most likely to blame a drop in barometric pressure or the cold. One patient believed the pain episodes were triggered by rain, temperature changes, or warm weather.

Two percent of patients who attributed their discomfort to non-biomedical conditions blamed irregular or bad sleep qualities for their pain. Roughly 1 percent felt their diet had something to do with their LBP flair-ups, and another 1 percent blamed fatigue.

Conclusion

More than half of the patients with intermittent LBP flair-ups believed their pain was caused by biomedical dysfunctions, and only a few believed the source of their pain was something other than biomedical problems. Active movements and static postures were the most cited triggers for LBP.

The findings in this study are consistent with previous literature about what patients believe to be the cause of their LBP. However, the lack of patient emphasis on psychosocial causes of LBP contrast with current evidence that indicates a positive correlation between psychological or mental states and persistent LBP.

The authors of this study emphasize the importance of further research into the validity of the triggers identified by the LBP patients in order to better understand LBP flair-ups and how those experiencing them conceptualize the event. Evidence indicates the efficacy of patient-centric treatment in LBP clinical outcomes, and better understanding what patients believe about their pain will help clinicians to identify more effective treatment plans to manage recurring LBP in their patients.

Stuart McGill, ddd spinal models

In an online interview with Bill Morgan, President of Parker University, world-renowned spine researcher and scientist, Stuart McGill, uses dynamic disc models from Dynamic Disc Designs to explain lumbar disc herniations, extrusions, and the mechanisms for lumbar disc injuries and treatments.

When treating spinal injuries, McGill stresses the importance of recognizing that the cause of most disc extrusions and herniations is a combination of factors, occurring over time. The cumulative array of factors may present as an acute condition causing pain, but in most cases, the disruption has not been created by a single loading event.

McGill uses the analogy of cloth to explain how repetitive loading and movement fray the collagen fibers that cover the socket joints, eventually working a hole into the fibers by repetitive stress strains occurring in a back and forth motion.

“The disc is layer upon layer of collagen fibers held together with [a tightly woven lamination matrix]. If you keep moving the disc under load, the hydraulic pressure of the pressurized nucleus slowly starts to work its way through the delamination that forms because of the movement,” he says.

He explains that when the collagen is intact and supple, a person has full range-of-motion without danger of creating tears, but when the spine is stiff and has become adapted to bearing heavy loads, it is in danger of injury.

“The problem comes when you combine the two worlds and confuse the adaptation process,” he says.

“In a modern lifestyle, you might have a person who sits at a computer for eight or more hours in a flexion stressed position which—on its own—may not be that bad. But then they go to the gym for an hour every night and start lifting loads. They’re taking their spine through the range of motion, so cumulatively, the collagen is asked to move, but it’s also pressurized. The nucleus behind gets pressurized and slowly works its way through the delaminated collagen.”

Stuart McGill, Models

Stuart McGill and the many ddd models he uses.

McGill, Dynamic Disc Designs

Professor Stuart McGill and Dynamic Disc Designs endorsement.

Recreating Compression Loading, Disc Bulge, and Proper Thrust Line with our Dynamic Model

Using the disc model, McGill demonstrates how the gel inside the disc remains pressurized under compression, but in cases where the collagen has become delaminated, bending the spine under a load creates a disc bulge.

“This is exactly what we see on dynamic MRI,” he says, manipulating the disc model to demonstrate. “In the laboratory we would inject the nucleus with various radio-opaque markers. We would watch the migration as the bulge would come through. Touch a nerve root and now you would match where the disc bulges with the precise anatomic pathway. If you sit for 20 minutes slouched and your right toe goes on fire, we know it’s the right ring and that’s exactly where the disk bulge is.”

McGill stacks the disc model into a thrust line and squeezes the spine segment to show how proper alignment adapts the movement experience.

“The whole disc is experiencing movement, but there’s no pressure, and nothing comes out to touch the nerve root,” he says.

Empowering the Patient with Simple Posture and Stress Exercise

McGill says his insight is based upon years of experiments studying the exact mechanisms of spinal injury and pain. He recommends using improved posture and stress—lying on the stomach for five minutes with two fists under their chin—to help,” mitigate the dynamics of that very dynamic disc bulge.”

He says the immediate relief provided by this simple exercise can empower a patient with discogenic pain and help alleviate the potential psychological trauma of feeling hopeless at not understanding the source of, or how to mitigate, pain.