Treating Chronic Lower Back Pain with Artificial Discs

Discs play an important role during movement but they can become a source of excruciating pain in case they are herniated or degenerated. This is a common problem in US affecting approximately 85% of the Americans and takes about $100 billion per year.

Medical researchers have come up with another biomedical device aimed at surgically helping to treat severe back pain. These are the artificial discs that are designed with precision that allows them to simulate the movement followed by the natural spine. The innovation was licensed from Brigham Young University to a company based in Utah.

The idea of the artificial disk was originally conceived by engineering professors Larry Howell and Anton Bowden and other BYU alumni known as Peter Halverson.  The spine is being developed to be marketed by Crocker Spinal Technologies which is a company established by Gary Crocker, BYU President’s Leadership Council member. The head of the organization is BYU MBA alumni David Hawkes.

These BYU researchers will report on the functioning mechanism of the artificial spine in a study that will be published in the forthcoming edition of International Journal of Spine Surgery.

According to Bowden who is a BYU spine and biomechanics expert, low back pain is among the chronic pains you can experience but will not kill you. The artificial spine is designed in a smart way such that it has ability to alleviate back pain through simulating the normal spine motion. This technology can actually not be explained by any of the modern procedures cannot accomplish.

At the moment, the widely used surgical treatment for severe low back pain is the spinal fusion surgery. The fusion substitutes degenerative discs bones so that they can connect with the neighboring segments thereby preventing the motion-instigated pain. Unluckily, the patient satisfaction with this method is below 50%.

Fortunately, BYU’s researched solution and now being developed & marketed by the Crocker Spinal technologies that are composed of compliant mechanism that restores normal spine motion. This in turn ensures restoration of healthy spinal disc.

The compliant mechanisms are elastic, jointless structures that are characterized by flexibility that facilitates movement. Examples of the movement simulated by these applications include fingernail clippers, bow-and-arrow and tweezers.

Howell is a renowned professional in the research of compliant mechanism. He said that it is very complicated to simulate the original movement followed by the spine as a result of the limited space coupled by the complexity of the spine and the rest of the parts. He also added that compliant mechanisms are better since it appears more natural and also simulates the human motions more easily. According to the test results that have been done in the past, the artificial replacement discs functions in an efficient manner just like the regular health human discs.

In Bowden and Howell’s tutelage, the BYU student engineers were capable of constructing prototypes, tested the discs in the machines and then tried the units in cadaveric spines. The tests revealed that the artificial replacement discs simulate the functioning of the healthy human discs.

Howell accepts that after putting the spine discs in a cadaver then have their invention functioning just the way they expected is really rewarding. These discs hold high hope among many people as the ultimate solution for treatment of the condition.

Halverson was the chief author of International Journal of Spine Surgery study. He has already acquired his Ph.D. in the field at BYU and has joined Crocker Spinal Technologies. There are chances that the company will start international distribution of the products in the following year. The innovation is expected to close the gap left by Fusion which is currently the standard back pain care method. The technology is expected to make great difference in the lives of millions of people with back pain problem.