Everybody’s back hurts now and then. We’ll find out how engineers are helping ease the pain – today, on Engineering Works!
About 65 million of us suffer get backaches every year. Most of the time, it’s just from working too hard in the yard last weekend. For about 12 million people, though, it’s more – something called degenerative disc disease. It can be pretty serious. Degenerative disc disease is what happens when discs between sections of your backbone in your lower back collapse. You can’t move your back the way it’s supposed to, and it hurts – a lot.
Doctors usually treat serious degenerative disc disease by taking out what’s left of the disc and allowing the vertebra on either side of where the disc used to be to grow together. Usually it helps the pain, but not always. And you can’t move as well as before.
Engineers and surgeons in Germany have come up with what may be a better idea. It’s an artificial disc made of special plastic and chromium alloy. It looks kind of like a sandwich – layers of plastic between thin slices of metal. Pins in the metal go into the vertebrae on each side of where the original disc used to be. The plastic between the metal discs slides around so you can bend pretty much like you used to.
Laboratory tests suggest they should be good for at least 40 years. That’s 88 million worth of bending over to pick up your newspaper from the driveway.