Mechanical profiling of intervertebral discs


Despite recent advances in imaging diagnostic technology and additional treatment options our ability to prevent or inhibit discogenic back pain has not drastically improved. The challenge of linking early degenerative patterns to dysfunction and pain remains. Using a novel material testing device designated the Tissue Diagnostic Instrument (TDI) we measured the local stiffness and strain energy absorption in the radial direction of 13 intact intervertebral discs; effectively generating a mechanical profile of each disc. Prior to measuring mechanical properties, an MR image was taken of each spine segment and the discs were radiologically scored according to the Pfirrmann scale. After testing, a sagittal portion of each L1-L2 disc was excised from each of four spines for histology. No significant correlations were found between Pfirrmann grade and mechanical data. However, polarized light microscopy images of disc sections indicated correlations between local tissue modulus measured with the TDI and the clarity and density of lamellar striations.