Injectable implant may help relieve pain from degenerative disc disease

May 26 2011
A potential new treatment for back pain has been developed by British researchers that may spare individuals struggling with this condition from an expensive and invasive spine surgery. 

An interdisciplinary team from the University of Manchester in the UK announced the creation of an elastic gel that forms after special nanoscopic polymer particles are injected into the affected part of the spine.

In effect, this gel - which has been shown to be highly flexible and allow for natural movements of the spine - is expected to play the role of an intervertebral disc.

Degeneration, herniation and other pathologies of these discs are at the core of most chronic back pain symptoms.

In addition to its superior mechanical properties, this injectable gel is also durable, which is a basic requirement for any implant.

Lead researcher Dr. Brian Saunders, of the School of Materials at the University of Manchester, said that the use of such innovative compounds "brings the prospect of an injectable gel for treating degeneration of the intervertebral disc a step closer."

The work was recently published in the journal Soft Matter, and is the culmination of 25 years of intense research.

Degenerative disc disease is a condition that typically occurs in individuals as they age, although trauma and certain types of work can increase the likelihood of its development in younger people as well. It involves a lot of pain as the discs lose their flexibility, shrink and start pressing on spinal nerves.

While some milder or early stage cases may be treated with physical therapy or painkiller medications, many individuals eventually end up needing surgery, which comes with its own set of risks and side effects. As such, the British researchers' discovery may offer the much needed minimally-invasive yet effective repair of intervertebral disc degeneration.