The mechanical behaviour of the intervertebral disc highly depends on the content and transport of interstitial fluid. It is unknown, however, to what extent the time-dependent behaviour can be attributed to osmosis. Here we investigate the effect of both mechanical and osmotic loading on water content, nucleus pressure and disc height. Eight goat intervertebral discs, immersed in physiological saline, were subjected to a compressive force with a pressure needle inserted in the nucleus. The loading protocol was: 10N (6h); 150N (42h); 10N (24h). Half-way the 150N-phase (24h), we eliminated the osmotic gradient by adding 26% poly-ethylene glycol to the surrounding fluid. For 62 additional discs, we determined the water content of both nucleus and annulus after 6, 24, 48, or 72h. The compressive load was initially counterbalanced by the hydrostatic pressure in the nucleus. The load forced 4.3% of the water out of the nucleus, which reduced nucleus pressure by 44(±6)%. Reduction of the osmotic gradient disturbed the equilibrium disc height, and a significant loss of annulus water content was found. Remarkably, pressure and water content of the nucleus pulposus remained unchanged. This shows that annulus water content is important in the response to axial loading. After unloading, in the absence of an osmotic gradient, there was substantial viscoelastic recovery of 53(±11)% of the disc height, without a change in water content. However, for restoration of the nucleus pressure and for full restoration of disc height, restoration of the osmotic gradient was needed.
- Fluid flow
- Intervertebral disc