Study may yield benefits for back pain treatment in humans and their pets

May 19 2011
It is sometimes joked that, over time, people and their pets begin to resemble each other. Now, it turns out that there may be more to it than meets the eye. In fact, similar back pain problems have been identified both in humans and their four-legged friends. 

A Swedish doctoral student recently defended a dissertation that presented evidence that the epidemiology of herniated discs - which can lead to a lot of pain and disability - is similar in people and dogs. That means that not only are the symptoms similar across the different species but the therapeutic methods can be, too.

According to Niklas Bergknut from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, early stages of degenerative disc disease in people are diagnosed with the help of magnetic resonance imaging, and the same method may help veterinarians identify this problem in at-risk dogs, such as short-legged ones. This will hopefully allow the animals to receive prompt treatment with better outcomes.

The importance of the research also stems from the fact that there is great value in such cross-species comparative approaches.

"Studies of dogs' backs provide enhanced knowledge about human back problems, since the course of the disorder is very similar," says Bergknut.

In his work, the scientist experimented with an innovative method of treatment that may work for both humans and dogs with back pain. He used a disc prosthesis made of hydrogel and tested it on the spines of deceased dogs. His results showed that the implant may be able to restore normal anatomical distance between the vertebrae and normal mobility of the spine.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, lower back pain is the second most frequent reason to visit a physician for patients with a chronic condition and the fifth most common cause for hospitalization among Americans.