July 7, 2010
Applying good vibrations to back problems
Research shows mechanical vibrations could help the spine regenerate
Slipped discs, pinched nerves, whiplash and disc degeneration affect millions of North Americans. They often lead to severe back pain. Sufferers often rely on powerful medication for relief, and that medication can be addictive.
It’s long been thought that people exposed to mechanical vibrations, such as construction workers and truck drivers who spend long hours absorbing vibrations from seats, are more prone to back disorders.
But new research at the University of Calgary’s Schulich School of Engineering in collaboration with sponsor Optima Health Solutions International Corp. (KKT International) has uncovered potential benefits of mechanical vibrations.
“Mechanical vibrations appear to alter cell behaviour in a way that points to the potential for the regeneration of cells and tissues in the spine. Our results were both surprising and encouraging, given the socio-economic costs of back pain,” says Christopher Hunter, biomedical engineer at the Schulich School of Engineering and the McCaig Institute for Bone and Joint Health. Hunter’s work is supported in part by funding from Alberta Innovates – Health Solutions.
Mechanical vibration is already used as a form of therapy by Optima and many back-pain sufferers swear by it. Christopher Hunter and the Associate Research Director of Optima, Geoffrey Desmoulin, are the first to study the ‘how’ behind the apparent success of applying vibration. Their research shows that vibrations can benefit the spine, depending on the type and frequency of vibration, where it is applied and for how long. “This information is very exciting and Optima has been able to use this research in clinics around the world as results come in,” says Geoff Desmoulin.
Hunter and Desmoulin experimented with spines from cattle, which are structurally similar to human spines. Experiments involved shaking bovine discs and applying vibrations with a stylus from the Khan Kinetic Treatment (KKT) device, Optima’s primary product. Both showed beneficial results at the cellular level.
These findings could lead to more effective treatments for back disorders and help patients avoid reliance on powerful pain-killing drugs. Better treatments could reduce the strain on the health-care system and reduce the economic costs of lost productivity due to back pain. The next step in this research is to gain a better understanding of how vibration frequencies travel through different types of tissue such as muscle and bone.
Hunter and Desmoulin have completed a series of papers outlining their findings. Two have been published in the journals Biomechanical Engineering and Spine. A third will be published in Spine later this year.