Role of load history in intervertebral disc mechanics and intradiscal pressure generation

  • David Hwang
  • Adam S. Gabai
  • Miao Yu
  • Alvin G. Yew
  • Adam H. HsiehEmail author
Original Paper


Solid–fluid interactions play an important role in mediating viscoelastic behaviour of biological tissues. In the intervertebral disc, water content is governed by a number of factors, including age, disease and mechanical loads, leading to changes in stiffness characteristics. We hypothesized that zonal stress distributions depend on load history, or the prior stresses experienced by the disc. To investigate these effects, rat caudal motion segments were subjected to compressive creep biomechanical testing in vitro using a protocol that consisted of two phases: a Prestress Phase (varied to represent different histories of load) followed immediately by an Exertion Phase, identical across all Prestress groups. Three analytical models were used to fit the experimental data in order to evaluate load history effects on gross and zonal disc mechanics. Model results indicated that while gross transient response was insensitive to load history, there may be changes in the internal mechanics of the disc. In particular, a fluid transport model suggested that the role of the nucleus pulposus in resisting creep during Exertion depended on Prestress conditions. Separate experiments using similarly defined load history regimens were performed to verify these predictions by measuring intradiscal pressure with a fibre optic sensor. We found that the ability for intradiscal pressure generation was load history-dependent and exhibited even greater sensitivity than predicted by analytical models. A 0.5 MPa Exertion load resulted in 537.2 kPa IDP for low magnitude Prestress compared with 373.7 kPa for high magnitude Prestress. Based on these measurements, we developed a simple model that may describe the pressure-shear environment in the nucleus pulposus. These findings may have important implications on our understanding of how mechanical stress contributes to disc health and disease etiology.


Intervertebral disc Intradiscal pressure Nucleus pulposus Biomechanics Mechanobiology 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Hwang
    • 1
  • Adam S. Gabai
    • 2
  • Miao Yu
    • 2
  • Alvin G. Yew
    • 2
  • Adam H. Hsieh
    • 1
    • 3
    • 4
    Email author
  1. 1.Fischell Department of BioengineeringUniversity of MarylandCollege ParkUSA
  2. 2.Department of Mechanical EngineeringUniversity of MarylandCollege ParkUSA
  3. 3.Department of OrthopaedicsUniversity of MarylandBaltimoreUSA
  4. 4.Orthopaedic Mechanobiology LaboratoryCollege ParkUSA

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