October 02, 2018 10:52:40
Spinal injuries are often blamed on bending and twisting movements, but new research — and a special robot that mimics human movement — has found that the common slipped disc injury might be caused by different movements altogether.
- Robot is used by university in Adelaide to research cause of slipped disc injuries
- Slipped discs are a common cause of radiating pain down the legs, or sciatica
- Findings could lead to a better understanding of the motions that put people at greater risk
The research — undertaken by the Flinders University Medical Device Research Institute — used advanced technology and robotics to look into the impact of bending and twisting movements on back pain.
To test the theory, a robot replicated a year’s worth of lifting a 20-kilogram box and it is believed that the findings will lead to a better understanding of the motions that put people at greater risk of a slipped disc.
It’s hoped to help develop better prevention protocols for safe lifting techniques, with a focus on manual labour workers and people within industries that involve repetitive heavy lifting.
“It’s always been assumed that bending and twisting is the mechanism for a slipped disc,” Flinders University Medical Device Research Institute PhD candidate Dhara Amin said.
“We wanted to test this theory in the lab using the more advanced technology we now have access to.”
Injury like squeezing a jam donut
Radiating pain down the legs is a common injury for young and middle-aged people within manual labour industries and commonly caused by slipped discs — known as lumbar disc herniations.
Researchers said that the discs are made of an elastic casing around a jelly-like material [nucleus] which help absorb shock and keep the spine stable.
They found that a slipped disc could be likened to squeezing a jam donut, when the jam oozes out.
If the disc is bent and pressurised, the nucleus bulges out of its casing which has a negative impact on the nerves coming out of the spinal cord and can cause pain down the legs and potential back pain.
The team of researchers used the special robot, named “Hexapod”, and made it bend and twist on sections of the cadaveric human spine while holding a 20-kilogram box.
Ms Amin said they tracked the disc failure patterns and found that only half of the spines failed through slipped discs, while the others failed through bone injuries.
“The Hexapod robot at Flinders University is unique because we can mimic human movements that previously weren’t possible using the standard mechanical testing devices,” she said.
“The result was interesting — we expected all of the specimens to fail by slipped discs.
“This leads us to believe there are other motions that can cause a slipped disc, which may be worse than just bending and twisting.”
Expert says research and education is crucial
The head of spinal surgery at the Royal Adelaide Hospital Professor Brian Freeman worked with Ms Amin on the project.
He said further research and education would be crucial to prevent injuries within the community.
“The prevalence of lumbar disc herniation is estimated at three-to-five per cent. Lumbar disc herniation often presents with acute low back pain, followed by severe leg pain,” he said.
“These symptoms can persist for some time, resulting in work absence with significant cost to the economy.
“Research like this is crucial if we are to reduce the incidence of disc herniation.
“It’s important for those involved in manual handling tasks to be educated in safe lifting practice.”