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Eur Spine J. 2016 May;25(5):1363-1372. doi: 10.1007/s00586-016-4416-5. Epub 2016 Feb 2.

A new dynamic six degrees of freedom disc-loading simulator allows to provoke disc damage and herniation.

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Institute of Orthopedic Research and Biomechanics, Center of Musculoskeletal Research (zmfu), Helmholtzstraße 14, 89081, Ulm, Germany.
SpineServ GmbH and Co. KG, Söflinger Straße 100, 89077, Ulm, Germany.
Institute of Orthopedic Research and Biomechanics, Center of Musculoskeletal Research (zmfu), Helmholtzstraße 14, 89081, Ulm, Germany.
Department of Internal Medicine II, University Hospital Ulm, Albert-Einstein-Allee 23, 89081, Ulm, Germany.
Small Animal MRI, Medical Faculty, Ulm University, Albert-Einstein-Allee 11, 89081, Ulm, Germany.



The cause of disc herniation is not well understood yet. It is assumed that heavy lifting and extreme postures can cause small injuries starting either in the inner anulus or from the outside close to the endplate. Such injuries are accumulated over years until its structure is weakened and finally a single loading event leads to a sudden failure of the last few intact lamellae. This paper describes a novel, custom-developed dynamic 6-DOF disc-loading simulator that allows complex loading to provoke such disc damage and herniations.


The machine's axes are driven by six independent servomotors providing high loads (10 kN axial compression, 2 kN shear, 100 Nm torque) up to 5 Hz. A positional accuracy test was conducted to validate the machine. Subsequently, initial experiments with lumbar ovine motion segments under complex loading were performed. After testing, the discs were examined in an ultra-high field MRI (11.7 T). A three-dimensional reconstruction was performed to visualise the internal disc lesions.


Validation tests demonstrated positioning with an accuracy of ≤0.08°/≤0.026 mm at 0.5 Hz and ≤0.27°/≤0.048 mm at 3.0 Hz with amplitudes of ±17°/±2 mm. Typical failure patterns and herniations could be provoked with complex asymmetrical loading protocols. Loading with axial compression, flexion, lateral bending and torsion lead in 8 specimens to 4 herniated discs, two protrusions and two delaminations. All disc failures occurred in the posterior region of the disc.


This new dynamic disc-loading simulator has proven to be able to apply complex motion combinations and allows to create artificial lesions in the disc with complex loading protocols. The aim of further tests is to better understand the mechanisms by which disc failure occurs at the microstructural level under different loading conditions. Visualisation with ultra-high field MRI at different time points is a promising method to investigate the gradual development of such lesions, which may finally lead to disc failure. These kinds of experiments will help to better investigate the mechanical failure of discs to provide new insights into the initiation of intervertebral disc herniation. This device will also serve for many other applications in spine biomechanics research.


6-DOF; Complex loading; Disc-loading simulator; Dynamic spine tester; Endplate junction failure; Herniation; Intervertebral disc

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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