We have developed a simple, low-cost, and innovative design — known as a “disc emulator” to mimic the mechanical response of a motion segment (vertebra - intervertebral disc-vertebra) of the human spinal column under axial compression loads. The disc emulator consists of upper and lower components that mimic the human vertebrae and a middle component that represents the annulus fibrosus (AF). This study aims to investigate the effects of changing the stiffness of artificial annulus fibrosus of the disc emulator on the bulging measurements while performing compression tests on the disc emulator. A non-contact measurement — digital image correlation (DIC) — was used for the bulging measurements. The results show that the bulging at the posterior region for the discs without nucleus pulposus (NP) bulged inwards, but the bulging at the posterolateral region was outwards, which accords with the reported behavior of the human disc, for the disc without and with NP regardless of the stiffness of the discs. Changing the stiffness of the artificial annulus fibrosus (AAF) alters the bulging magnitudes in the disc, which shows similar responses with respect to the available data on the human disc. The emulator provides a convenient experimental platform for evaluating normal and pathological disc states and assessing the biomechanics of potential therapeutic interventions.

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