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.

inflammation, re-absorption

A review  1 of the clinical literature regarding lumbar disc herniation (LDH), particularly as it relates to the phenomenon known as “spontaneous LDH regression,” in which the herniation reduces or resolves without surgical treatment, concludes that the inflammatory response that contributes to nerve pain and damage may also be responsible for the spontaneous re-absorption of the herniation. Therefore, except in extreme cases where a neurological deficit or intolerable pain is experienced by the LBP patient, treatment for LDH should be conservative and custom-tailored to address the specific biochemical mechanisms at play in the patient.

What’s at Stake?

The pain and economic disability caused by LDH affects roughly 9 percent of the world’s population and is strongly associated with the aging process. Recent studies have indicated that the malady is more often caused by a failure in the endplate junction, rather than an annulus fibrosis (AF) failure, with its associated nerve ingrowth. This explains why up to 40 percent of patients diagnosed with LHD after imaging tests are asymptomatic.

Typically, LDH and degenerative disc treatments may be surgical, or conservative (non-surgical), with the decision about which approach is appropriate determined cooperatively by the clinician and patient. Because disc herniations often regress spontaneously, without surgical intervention, the authors of this review emphasize the need for clinicians to better understand the biomechanisms at work in LDH in order to make better-informed decisions about which treatment approach might be best for their patients.

Subtypes of LDH that More Frequently Regress

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and CT Scan evidence of LDH regression indicate that particular subsets of herniations are more likely to spontaneously regress than others. Specifically, large-sized and sequestered herniations at the L4-L5 spinal segment level are more apt to partially or completely regress than other types of herniations. It is thought the regression is facilitated by the herniation’s exposure to the epidural vascular supply when the posterior longitudinal ligament ruptures. In fact, MRI studies have shown that the spontaneous regression of herniated disc materials is associated less with the size of the rupture and more with the vessels extending beyond the ligaments and supplying blood and nutrients to the inflamed herniation.

Of 36 analyzed herniations imaged in one study, 25 of them resolved spontaneously—17 percent subligamentous, 48 percent transligamentous, and a whopping 82 percent of sequestered herniations, respectively. This suggests the size of the hernia is less of a factor than the PLL rupture. In another study, all sequestered discs self-resolved within 9 months, while extruded discs took a full 12 months to resolve. Disc protrusions did not resolve, even after a full year.

Conclusion

Clinicians should pay particular attention to the subset type of LDH in their patients when deciding whether to treat their condition surgically or conservatively. Further study into the biochemical mechanisms involved in LDH and its potential for self-resolution would be beneficial in long-term LDH patient outcomes and should be a focus of research for clinicians treating patients with LDH.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A cross-sectional study 1of the multifidus muscles (MM) and erector spinae muscles of 68 women and 42 men found significantly higher levels of muscles in subjects without disc herniation than in the disc herniation group, indicating that chronic pressure on the root of the spinal nerve may cause degeneration and atrophy of the MM and erector spinae muscles groups.

 

Single-Level Disc Herniation

Model of Single-Level Disc Herniation.

 

The Study

110 LBP patients with an average age of 40 were analyzed and divided into two groups—those with single-level disc degeneration, and those without disc degeneration. Subjects with multilevel degeneration were excluded, as were those with deformities of the spine or a history of spinal surgeries. Both groups were radiographed via MRI at the lumbar levels, and the imaging results were compared to examine the paravertebral muscles, disc heights, and perpendicular distances between the laminae and MM. Statistical analysis using software compared the variables using the Kolmogorov-Smirnov test to investigate data distribution.

Results

The LBP patients without lumbar disc herniation had clinically-significant greater MM and erector spinae muscles than those with radiographically-confirmed disc degeneration. No significant differences existed, however, in the disc heights, perpendicular distances between the MM and the laminae, or the psoas major cross-sectional areas of the two study groups.

Discussion

The MM stabilizes the lumbar spine and, when negatively impacted, contributes to LBP. The muscle group create more force over a smaller range than the longer spine muscle groups, which helps to stabilize movement. The dorsal rami of the spinal nerves stimulates the MM and erector spinae, but the psoas major is stimulated by ventral rami lumbar spinal branches, prior to their joining the lumbar plexus. The medial paraspinal muscles are stimulated from one nerve root, but the iliocostalis and longissimus muscles receives stimulation from many roots. Indications of muscle degeneration include decreased muscle size and increased fat deposits in the area.

Because the MM and erector spinae are stimulated by the dorsal root stemming from a singular level, the chronic and long-lasting pressure on the root due to disc herniation contributes to the degeneration and atrophy of these muscles. This atrophy is not evident in the psoas muscle because it is stimulated by the nerves of many different levels, rather than a singular source. In order for muscle atrophy to occur, there must be at least six weeks of compression, according to this study’s authors.

Conclusion

Evidence of increased fatty deposits and decreased muscle in a cross-sectional lumbar image indicates the existence of muscle degeneration in LBP patients, assuming there has been at least six weeks of compression on the MM or erector spinae muscle groups, which are stimulated by a single nerve root.

 

KEYWORDS: Muscle Degeneration in LBP Patients with Single-Level Disc Herniation, single-level disc degeneration, paravertebral muscles, disc heights, and perpendicular distances between the laminae and MM, pressure on the root due to disc herniation contributes to the degeneration and atrophy of these muscles

  1. Volumetric Muscle Measurements Indicate Significant Muscle Degeneration in Single-Level Disc Herniation Patients
Diurnal Disc Shape

The spine undergoes natural shape and fluid changes over the course of 24 hours. Often, back pain symptoms vary as well over the day and night cycle.  But the small changes and the links to pain have not been researched thoroughly. Here, a group of researchers from Duke University looked at the reliability of measuring intervertebral disc shape with recumbent MRI. This large avascular structure is linked to back pain and has significant diurnal variation in the human body. It would seem wise to further understand its diurnal disc shape changes.

Some people feel pain in the mornings and others feel things more so at the end of the day. Yet others feel pain more so when they lie down.

The intervertebral disc hydraulically keeps vertebrae separated. Water is squeezed out throughout the day as the human frame is vertical, and this water gets resorbed when an individual lays down. During the process, the disc changes shape and height. And when pain is involved, these shape and height changes can bear increased ( or decreased ) physical stress on structures that may be inflammatory. These can include annular fissures, disc bulges, disc herniations, disc protrusions, encroaching nerve or rootlets of nerves and the shingling of facet joints, just to name a few.

The purpose of this study was to determine intra and inter-rater reliability using MRI to measure diurnal changes of the intervertebral discs.

They did find excellent reliability, and interestingly they saw the most significant change in the posterior annulus region of L5-1. The diurnal variations were in line with what others had seen in previous work. Boos at al. in 1996 saw a 1-2mm change over the course of an 8h workday while Hutton et al. in 2003 saw a volume change of 1-2 cm3.

This research is essential if we are to fully understand back pain origins. Often pain syndromes related to the lower back present with symptoms that are diurnal. At Dynamic Disc Designs, we have models to help explain these subtle but significant changes to the discs, assisting patients to understand the onset of their pains and the diurnal disc shape and the natural variations.

 

intradiscal pressure, model

A study of in vivo intradiscal pressure in subjects with and without lower back pain (LBP) sought to find out how disc degeneration affects intradiscal pressure, measure the loading capacity of the L4/L5 IVD segment, and determine any relationship between movement in that disc segment and the spinal loading capacity. The researchers found that there was a significant relationship between spinal loading and the angle of the motion segment in healthy discs in vivo. In degenerated discs, the intradiscal pressure was much lower than that measured in healthy discs. Further study with wider parameters is suggested to fully understand the phenomenon and the problems associated with it.

Study Motivation and Design

The only way to directly measure spinal loading in humans is via the measurement of intradiscal pressure—a complex in vivo task. Most current knowledge about loading capacities were derived from pioneering studies in the 1960’s and 1970’s by Nachemson, but little corroborating evidence has been published on the topic since. These early studies utilized an inefficient means of evaluating intradiscal pressure—the polyethylene coated disc pressure needle until 1965, and after that, another needle designed specifically for intradiscal pressure measurements. This new needle was not without its deficits and required special handling and was prone to destroying structural defects on insertion. The current study’s authors utilized a newly designed silicone-based needle to measure the pressure and spinal load in 28 patients suffering from LBP, sciatica, or both at the L4/L5 segment, and in eight healthy volunteers with an average age of 25 years-old.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was performed on the healthy subjects prior to the beginning of the study to ensure no disc degeneration in the volunteers. The 28 LBP patients (10 women and 18 men with a mean age 45 years) were also imaged prior to pressure measurements being taken to visualize the amount of water content in their discs. These patients were diagnosed with disc herniation (16 patients) or spondylosis (12 patients).

The subjects were measured while in the prone position, without sedation but with a “local” dose of anesthesia. A guiding needle was used to position the pressure sensor needle into the nucleus pulposus of the L4/L5 IVD discs. Fluoroscopy was used to confirm correct placement of the needle had been achieved. The subjects were measured in eight positions: prone, upright standing, lateral decubitus, flexion and extension standing, and upright, flexion, and extension sitting positions. Radiograms of the lateral view were also taken of each of the subjects during their testing.

Observations

Pressure measurements in this study indicate that respiration creates a fluctuation in intradiscal pressure even when subjects are in the prone position and utilizing no other muscle activities. An IVD that is healthy is also elastic, with an intradiscal pressure that fluctuates in correspondence to muscle activities and respiration. It is possible that the normal pressure changes involved with respiration could be associated with the maintenance of the nutritional content inside the nucleus pulposus. There was a slight difference between horizontal and vertical pressures in healthy and degenerated discs and in the silicon gel, which may indicate that the nucleus pulposus has a similar pressure tropism to silicon gel. Normal discs had high water content, which explains the small difference between the horizontal and vertical pressure measurements. There was, however, a significant difference between the pressures of the total value (horizontal and vertical and whole posture) of healthy and degenerated discs. These values may not have been significant enough to measure in previous studies utilizing the less efficient needle-types. The information obtained in this study through the use of the sensitive silicone pressure needle will help in developing a better understanding of degenerative disc disease.

Professional LxH Model

Our Professional LxH Model

 

KEYWORDS: Link Between Lower Back Pain, Disc Degeneration and Intradiscal Pressure, relationship between spinal loading and the angle of the motion segment in healthy discs, respiration creates a fluctuation in intradiscal pressure, degenerative disc disease

disc failure and nerves in the intervertebral disc graphic

A microstructural analysis of how healthy discs respond to compression and complex loading postures—specifically those incorporating flexion and facet-constrained shear—found evidence that the required load contributing to disc failure was reduced when complex postures, rather than simple flexion, were utilized in load-bearing situations. In addition, when asymmetric postures were used during lifting, rather than simple compression or flexion, there occurred more infiltration of the nucleus material as it made its way to the annular periphery. The results of the study indicate that asymmetric postures during lifting are more likely to contribute to disc degeneration and lower back pain and should therefore be avoided.

The Study

The study 1 involved 30 motion segments from 10 sheep spines that had no previous signs of disc degeneration. The discs were frozen, thawed, and then rehydrated fully prior to the compression experiments to be in agreement with previous similar experiments and maximize the annular load. Researchers created a bending, twisting, lifting scenario that involved axial rotation, lateral, anterior, and posterior shear, and flexion, adapting the mechanical rig to compress and rotate the disc segments to failure using compressive force.

The typical failure was lower under complex loading conditions than in conditions of simple flexion. Microstructural damage included fractures of the vertebrae and three variations of annular damage, including mid-span direct tearing, non-continuous mid-span tearing, and annular-endplate tearing. Combinations of all three types of damage occurred, as well as circumferential failure, in all 30 discs.

The complex postures utilized in the study lessened the discs abilities to withstand compressive loading and contributed to failures. The complex loading conditions contributed to instances of dual modes of failure, including the circumferential (circuitous tracking of nuclear materials towards the annular periphery) evident in all study samples. This suggests that the lateral parts of the disc may be especially vulnerable during flexion because of shear loading in the area. Circumferential damage was evident in all 30 discs involved in this study, which suggests that it is likely an important type of damage involved in disc failure under complex loading conditions.

Conclusion

Complex postures during load-lifting may contribute to herniation and disc failure. Asymmetrical postures (in addition to flexion) should be avoided during lifting to reduce the likelihood of sustaining a lower back injury.

Sciatica, disc, model

Sciatica is often worsened by coughing, sneezing and straining. It is a sign that patients complain about in the case of back pain. In some, the act of coughing or sneezing can actually cause a disc herniation.

In a recent study in The European Spine Journal, researchers wanted to find out if the act of coughing, sneezing or straining is important in the assessment of nerve root compression or disc herniation on MRI.

In “A diagnostic study in patients with sciatica establishing the importance of localization of worsening of pain during coughing, sneezing and straining to assess nerve root compression on MRI” 1 they found that the worsening of leg pain with these actions which includes increasing intradiscal pressure 2 has good diagnostic value for nerve root compression and disc herniation with MRI.

The research revealed the importance of asking whether the patient has these symptoms in the history taking.

At Dynamic Disc Designs, our models showcase how compression will extrude the nucleus….helping patient’s understand their pain.

Quote by the famous Karel Lewit:

“The first task for the physician is to show the patient the cause of their pain”.

  1.  Eur Spine J. 2016 May;25(5):1389-92. doi: 10.1007/s00586-016-4393-8. Epub 2016 Feb 2.
  2.  Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 1999 Apr 15;24(8):755-62. New in vivo measurements of pressures in the intervertebral disc in daily life. Wilke HJ1, Neef P, Caimi M, Hoogland T, Claes LE.