Study design: An Ilizarov-type apparatus was applied to the tails of rats to assess the influence of immobilization, chronically applied compression, and sham intervention on intervertebral discs of mature rats.
Objectives: To test the hypothesis that chronically applied compressive forces and immobilization cause changes in the biomechanical behavior and biochemical composition of rat tail intervertebral discs.
Summary of background data: Mechanical factors are associated with degenerative disc disease and low back pain, yet there have been few controlled studies in which the effects of compressive forces on the structure and function of the disc have been isolated.
Methods: The tails of 16 Sprague-Dawley rats were instrumented with an Ilizarov-type apparatus. Animals were separated into sham, immobilization, and compression groups based on the mechanical conditions imposed. In vivo biomechanical measurements of disc thickness, angular laxity, and axial and angular compliance were made at 14-day intervals during the course of the 56-day experiment, after which discs were harvested for measurement of water, proteoglycan, and collagen contents.
Results: Application of pins and rings alone (sham group) resulted in relatively small changes of in vivo biomechanical behavior. Immobilization resulted in decreased disc thickness, axial compliance, and angular laxity. Chronically applied compression had effects similar to those of immobilization alone but induced those changes earlier and in larger magnitudes. Application of external compressive forces also caused an increase in proteoglycan content of the intervertebral discs.
Conclusions: The well-controlled loading environment applied to the discs in this model provides a means of isolating the influence of joint-loading conditions on the response of the intervertebral disc. Results indicate that chronically applied compressive forces, in the absence of any disease process, caused changes in mechanical properties and composition of tail discs. These changes have similarities and differences in comparison with human spinal disc degeneration.