Imaging Technology May Improve Outcomes for Patients with Back Pain

Scientists at Empa Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology are teaming with researchers at the University of Pittsburgh in an effort to develop a better understanding of the biomechanics of the spinal column. Patients with intractable back pain may elect to undergo intervertebral fusion which, although eliminating pain at the fused site, may result in the problem flaring up again in neighboring vertebrae. The question is why this occurs and how it could be prevented.

The team have developed a novel 3D X-ray video system called “Digital Stereo-X-Ray Imaging” (DSX). It can display the movement of the spinal column with 250 images per second, while the position of the vertebrae is visible down to an accuracy of 0.2 millimeters. The trick: the blurred X-ray images of the movement are combined on the computer with sharp CT images of the patient lying still. The technology is being applied first to analyzing the spinal column movements of healthy test subjects, while lifting weights. Once the model for healthy people is consistent, the researchers want to use the method to study the problems associated with arthrodesis. The idea is to film the patient with the DSX system before and after the operation and analyze the alteration in this distribution of forces due to the arthrodesis. This study will help to understand the degeneration of vertebral joints and identify the source of pain in the lower back more accurately.

Read a news story about the research here.

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