Degenerative Disc Disease – A lesson through rabbits

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Most recently, I’ve been hearing concerns about being diagnosed with degenerative disc disease.  If you have any concerns with degenerative disc disease or know someone, this article may be of interest.  Feel free to contact us with any questions.

Here is a scientific paper published in the European Spine Journal in May of 2006.

This work was supported by the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at the University of Heidelberg in Germany.  The authors didn’t receive anything of value from private or commercial entities for the data described in the study.

The experiment was done on rabbits because they couldn’t perform it on humans.  What they did was they took rabbits and caused a compression load on some of the discs in their spines to see how they would perform.  They then looked at their spines using different xrays and different measurements to determine the pressure inside the disc.  After just 28 days of external compression to select discs, here is a little bit of what the authors found:

– A significant decrease in disc thickness

– No fusion of the segments occurred but signs of end plate sclerosis were found.

(End plate sclerosis is when you see on xray increased whitening above and below the disc where it connects to the bony vertebrae of your spinal segments.  It indicates a build up of calcium and this typically points to areas of greater stress on bone.)

With only 28 days of the disc being compressed led to a significant change in the health of the disc as well as sclerosis starting to form.

How does this apply to human beings?

Imagine someone coming to our office for a complete structural chiropractic examination.  We then take a look at their xrays and see that they have a structural shift in the spine and they don’t have normal spinal curves.  We know that an abnormal curve puts more pressure and adds compression to our discs and we KNOW that a normal curve takes pressure off the discs.  And  potentially with 28 days of having an abnormal curve, disc pathologies are already developing.


A second group of rabbits were put through the same experiment with the 28 days of compression applied to their discs.  But this time they also applied 28 days of distraction (opposite of compression)afterwards and found no significant change in the disc.  They found that when you compress and then distract the discs they actually start to rehydrate.

What they found was when they loaded the disc with compression, the pressure inside the disc decreased.  Kind of like letting air out of a tire so you get a lower reading on the pressure gauge.  So basically what we see is when we start to load the disc, the internal pressure of the disc starts to decrease and you get an increase in sclerotic activity.  But, when you take the external pressure off the disc we can minimize that.

If a patient came to our office with a disc injury, a neck injury or a structural abnormality, I would ask them to read this article and educate them about the study.  I want to educate them the importance of the structure of your spine.  If you don’t have normal structure, that’s going to decrease the health of your disc, leading to more sclerosis, leading to the disc breaking down.  I want them to know that if Degenerative Disc Disease was due to age, all of the discs would be affected, not just the compressed.  I want to educate them, if they are constantly sitting in a slumped posture, why if they allow their spines to stay in an abnormal curve why that’s going to lead to abnormal structure and has a higher likelihood to lead to more disc pathology and other secondary conditions.  You can hang upside down and get temporary relief, but when you stand up you’ve not done much for the structure of your spine.  I want them to know that bad posture will cause abnormal structure but trying to correct bad posture yourself is not the most effective way to shift your underlying structure to what is considered normal.

At Structural Chiropractic of Glen Cove, we are focused on the structural correction of the spine.  If you have any questions please feel free to leave a comment.  If you would like to schedule a complimentary consultation or if you are ready for a Complete Structural Chiropractic Examination please feel free to contact us.

tel: 516 888 6139

Eur Spine J. 2006 May; 15(5): 597–604.

Published online 2005 Aug 13. doi:

Intradiscal pressure measurements in normal discs, compressed discs and compressed discs treated with axial posterior disc distraction: an experimental study on the rabbit lumbar spine model



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