BYU engineers find a solution to chronic back pain


Their unique creation mimics the natural movement of the spine, allowing the restoration and hopeful functionality of the spinal disc.

One of the leading causes today of a visit to the doctor is as a result of lower back pain.  According to research done by the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, up to 80 percent of people will experience back pain at some point in their lives.

It is because of this that mechanical engineering professors Larry Howell and Anton Bowden developed this spinal disc replacement, which uses flexible pieces of titanium that move with the spine and function just as a normal spinal disc would.

[media-credit id=144 align=”alignright” width=”300″]Mechanical engineering professors Anton Bowden (left) and Larry Howell (right) created an artificial disc replacement to help solve lower back pain.[/media-credit]
Mechanical engineering professors Anton Bowden (left) and Larry Howell (right) created an artificial disc replacement to help solve lower back pain.
BYU professors believe they have discovered a way to cure chronic lower back pain through their development of an artificial spinal disc.

“Low back pain has been described as the most severe pain you can experience that won’t kill you,” said Bowden, a BYU professor in biomechanics.  “This device has the potential to alleviate that pain and restore the natural motion of the spine – something current procedures can’t replicate.”

Spinal fusion surgery has been the standard treatment in the past for lower chronic back pain.  The surgery involves removing the degenerative disc and then fusing that space together using bone fragments.  However, while more than 300,000 operations are performed annually in the U.S., more than 50 percent of patients have been unsatisfied with the results.

“If this disc has better results than the fusion surgery, I would much rather have a replacement disc as opposed to having my discs fused together,” said Kim Blauer, a BYU senior studying recreational management.

Under the watchful eyes of Howell and Bowden, BYU engineering students were able to test this new artificial disc in the spines of cadavers.  The results showed that their creation behaved just as a normal healthy spine would.

“It has a lot of promise for eventually making a difference in a lot of people’s lives,” said Howell, an expert on compliant mechanism research.

This new spinal solution is now being developed by Crocker Spinal Technologies.  “Disc replacement is an emerging alternative to fusion that has the potential to make a significant difference in the lives of millions,” said David Hawkes, president of Crocker Spinal Technologies.

Hawkes explained the plan to market overseas first because of setbacks with the strict FDA regulations here in the U.S.

However, irregardless of how long it will take this new technology to take off, professors Howell and Bowden as well as Hawkes from Crocker Spinal Technologies, agree to its potential in helping many lives.


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