Putting the Squeeze on Old Yeller's Discs

It is commonly believed that heavy physical loads on the spine cause the discs between the vertebrae to degenerate. The authors of this article tested that theory. They used screws and coil springs to compress the discs of dogs for up to one year. Then the dogs' spines were studied for signs of degeneration.

The X-ray results showed no visible signs of degeneration. Researchers noticed no disc bulging, disc space narrowing, or cracks in the spine. However, they did see some microscopic changes in the cells of the discs. According to the authors, these microscopic changes might be early indicators of degeneration, which "supports the commonly held belief that high compressive forces play a causative role in disc degeneration."

A year is an ample time to see if compression really has an affect on the spinal discs. And even though there were no visible changes, the microscopic changes suggests that care should still be taken when it comes to heavy and repeated loads on the spine. So although these new findings don't add support for the old theory about disc compression, the old theory shouldn't be discarded on this evidence alone.

William C. Hutton, DSc. Does Long-Term Compressive Loading on the Intervertebral Disc Cause Degeneration? In Spine. December 1, 2000. Vol. 25. No. 23. Pp. 2993-3004.

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