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J Bone Joint Surg Br. 1990 Mar;72(2):266-70.

Diurnal changes in spinal mechanics and their clinical significance.

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Comparative Orthopaedic Research Unit, University of Bristol, England.


Diurnal changes in the loads acting on the spine affect the water content and height of the intervertebral discs. We have reviewed the effects of these changes on spinal mechanics, and their possible clinical significance. Cadaveric lumbar spines subjected to periods of creep loading show a disc height change similar to the physiological change. As a result intervertebral discs bulge more, become stiffer in compression and more flexible in bending. Disc tissue becomes more elastic as its water content falls, and its affinity for water increases. Disc prolapse becomes more difficult. The neural arch and associated ligaments resist an increasing proportion of the compressive and bending stresses acting on the spine. Observations on living people show that these changes are not fully compensated for by modified muscle activity. We conclude that different spinal structures are more heavily loaded at different times of the day. Therefore, the time of onset of symptoms and signs, and any diurnal variation in their severity, may help us understand more about the pathophysiology of low back pain and sciatica.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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