Every year, more than 130,000 people suffer spinal injuries due to sports, traffic, and working accidents. According to “wings for life”,1 more than 2.7 million victims suffer from paraplegia. The consequences of spinal accidents can lead to life-long disabilities, chronic pain, and even death. Aside from the physical, psychological, stresses and strains of such an injury, enormous economical costs occur. Regarding positive healing aspects, spinal injuries with paraplegia are to be seen as the worst injuries to be treated. A full recovery or rehabilitation of spinal cord injuries is rare.
Inspired by these issues, we started a screening of existing back protectors. According to recent surveys of major spinal injuries in Germany, only 4% can be avoided by current back protectors. To clarify these surveys, spinal injuries can be classified into 2 categories:
- Direct spinal impacts represent a ratio of 4% of the studies.
- The majority of these injuries (96%) are spinal overextensions, which is the most common reason for paraplegia.
In collaboration with the Medical University of Vienna and Graz, a concept is being developed and tested which aims to protect spinal overextensions. The concept is a spinal cord protector, which compared to back protectors on the market, would reduce the currently high percentage of spinal injuries. The development of the spinal cord protector consists of two elements:
- A bionic spinal cord back shield, which simulates the same movements of the spine.
- A connection harness, which attaches to the body.
The biggest problem of the ongoing development is that currently no affective test methods are available. Before we can verify current sufficiency of such a product, we must first develop a testing method. There is no biomechanical data existing, which gives us information about critical spinal impact forces, causing fractures. Even methods to evaluate products used in the automotive sector (ATDS crash test dummies) cannot be incorporated due to the fact, that neither the thoracle nor lumbar spine section is integrated.
In collaboration with Dr. Dietmar Rafolt, (Center for Medical Physics and Biomedical Engineering / Medical University of Vienna) we launched a project to test the spinal cord protector under a critical range, to gain knowledge about the effectiveness of the product.
Focus and target of the ongoing development is to avoid fatal or lethal spinal injuries. Information scientifically gained will be published in medical journals and used for future safety measures.
Collaboration with Medical University of Graz / Vienna
1Wings for life Vertebrae case studies 2008