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High-Tech Classrooms: Learning with Virtual Human Anatomy

Posted by Maite Suarez-Rivas on Thu, Jan 19, 2017 @ 12:26 PM

Nine years ago, we did something risky: we took our company’s most precious assets—our interactive 3D anatomy models—and made them available to healthcare professionals, professors, and students.  

For free. 

(Remember: back in the day, free things on the internet were unheard of. The good stuff was behind paywall after paywall.)  

Human Anatomy Atlas, then and now.

Top image: the very first version of Human Anatomy Atlas released in the Winter of 2007.
Bottom image: Human Anatomy Atlas 2017 Edition

 

What happened when we put Visible Body on the web for free? 

The first version of Visible Body’s Human Anatomy Atlas was an Internet Explorer-only female model with about two thousand anatomical structures. 

In a few months, over a million people signed up to try it out.  
 
Healthcare professionals started using our content to communicate with patients. Professors began using the 3D anatomy models in their lectures and labs. Even students signed up to dissect and study the models; they wondered in comments to us and in newsgroups (remember those?) how to incorporate online anatomy visuals into the work they did outside of class and anatomy lab. 

Okay, maybe it wasn't that surprising. Give people free tools and they will use them. 

Visible Body had spent years creating highly accurate anatomy teaching videos for pharmaceutical and medical device companies, but by putting our models out on the web, we found a new audience: everyone else. Students, professors, doctors, healthcare professionals, and even just regular people—all who wanted to better understand how the body works. It was then that we realized we had a job to do: bring 3D anatomy to the world. 

 

But why are more and more people using technology over textbooks in the classroom? 

Welcome to the 21st century, where more people have access to mobile phones than they do toilets. There's about a 50% chance that you're reading this on your phone right now. As technology continues to become more integrated with our day-to-day lives, high-tech classrooms are fast becoming the norm, which means that some of the old ways of doing things get closer and closer to obsolescence.

Some of you might think the next thing I say is that anatomy textbooks are becoming obsolete. They're not—they're still the number one resource for credible information—but they're no longer the only anatomy resource available. Between sites like Wikipedia, Bartleby, Open Stax, YouTube, and companies that make 3D anatomy apps like Visible Body and Netter, there is no shortage of different and cost-effective ways to learn. 

Human Anatomy Atlas is available on multiple platforms and devices.

And that's the name of the game, folks: differentiated learning. People learn things in different ways, and a complex subject like anatomy can't be boxed into one. It isn't just about memorizing parts of the body: it's visualizing where anatomical structures are in context, learning how shape and size give way to function, and understanding how structures interact within their systems and with the anatomy of others. 2D images and text explanations may not be enough, especially when you don't have a cadaver in front of you. Being able to see anatomy in a 3D space is incredibly important, because that's how anatomy exists. People are not flat images on a page; the way we learn anatomy can't be just that, either. 

 

What is fueling innovation in the learning and teaching of human anatomy? 

So much has changed since that fateful day in 2007 when we first put our models out there, but the use of 3D anatomy apps—both in anatomy labs on college campuses and by medical students and practitioners—continues to grow in popularity. 

Here are a few trends we've noticed: 

  • Hospitals rely on 3D visuals and online content for a good amount of their patient education and the continuing medical education they offer their healthcare professionals. (1, 2
  • The prediction that cadavers for anatomy lab courses would become scarce hasn't exactly come true (3); but other trends have introduced 3D anatomy apps as a growing resource in many anatomy dissection labs. These trends include the surge in online learning (4), issues related to using animals for dissection (5), and the demands on limited lab time at schools with fast-growing enrollments in healthcare related degrees (6). 
  • Apps for medical reference and anatomy teaching have flourished. It's not just students who pull out their phones first before they reach for an anatomy atlas. Healthcare professionals rely on medical apps for patient communication, records management, reference, and more! (7, 8
  • For many visitors to our website, learning still starts with the free content we offer that visually communicates anatomy, physiology, and pathology. (Check our Anatomy Education Hub resources).  
  • Our suite of apps includes our award-winning flagship general reference atlas, and a series of other apps aimed at specific learners (like undergraduate anatomy & physiology students, and kinesiology, sports medicine and physical therapy specialists)  

 

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Are you a professor (or know someone who is)? We have awesome visuals and resources for your anatomy and physiology course! Learn more here.

 

Sources: 
 
(1) "A New Clinical Study Provides Evidence That Patient-Specific, Virtual Reality Based Preoperative Surgical Simulation Improves Surgical Efficiency for Neurovascular Surgery, Published in Journal of Neurosurgery." A New Clinical Study Provides Evidence That Patient-Specific, Virtual Reality Based Preoperative Surgical Simulation Improves Surgical Efficiency for Neurovascular Surgery, Published in Journal of Neurosurgery | Business Wire. Business Wire, Inc., 17 May 2016. Web. 19 Dec. 2016. <http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20160517005670/en/Clinical-Study-Evidence-Patient-Specific-Virtual-Reality-Based>. 

(2) Scher, David Lee. "Five Ways Virtual Reality Will Transform Healthcare." Samsung Business Insights. Samsung, 24 June 2016. Web. 19 Dec. 2016. <https://insights.samsung.com/2016/06/24/five-ways-virtual-reality-will-transform-healthcare/>. 

(3) "Body Donations to Medical Schools Are up." CBSNews. The Associated Press, 17 Aug. 2016. Web. 19 Dec. 2016. <http://www.cbsnews.com/news/people-are-giving-more-of-themselves-these-days-literally/>. 

(4) The Condition of Education - Postsecondary Education - Programs, Courses, and Completions - Distance Education in Postsecondary Institutions - Indicator November (2015)." The Condition of Education - Postsecondary Education - Programs, Courses, and Completions - Distance Education in Postsecondary Institutions - Indicator November (2015). U.S. Department of Education, Nov. 2015. Web. 19 Dec. 2016. <http://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_sta.asp>. 

(5) Gorman, Nicole. "Education World: School's Anatomy Lesson Intensifies Debate Over Animal Dissection in Classrooms." Education World: School's Anatomy Lesson Intensifies Debate Over Animal Dissection in Classrooms. Education World, Inc., 18 May 2016. Web. 19 Dec. 2016. <http://www.educationworld.com/a_news/school%E2%80%99s-anatomy-lesson-intensifies-debate-over-animal-dissection-classrooms-646730458>. 

(6) "Employment of Healthcare Occupations Projected to Grow 19 Percent." U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 17 Dec. 2015. Web. 19 Dec. 2016. <https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/home.htm>. 

(7) "The Best Online Tools and Technology for Your Nursing Career." EveryNurse.org. EveryNurse.org, 30 Jan. 2014. Web. 19 Dec. 2016. <http://everynurse.org/the-best-online-tools-and-technology-for-your-nursing-career/> 

(8) Milligan, Lauren. "Top 10 IPad Apps for Physical Therapists." WebPT. WebPT, 04 May 2016. Web. 19 Dec. 2016. <https://www.webpt.com/blog/post/top-10-ipad-apps-physical-therapists>. 

Topics: in the classroom

Students Say: More instructors should use 3D visual anatomy apps

Posted by Sofía Pellón on Fri, Jan 13, 2017 @ 02:38 PM

In our last post, we spoke to a few students who use Human Anatomy Atlas, and they have a lot of cool insights into how using our app helps them study and learn. Kathryn, Brandon, and Kiko each have a different perspective on learning and teaching anatomy. Today, they’re talking to us about the benefits of instructors using 3D anatomy models in lecture and lab.

Kathryn R. is a nursing student at Salem State University who also tutors undergraduate students studying Anatomy & Physiology. Brandon B. is a first-year medical student at Northeast Ohio Medical University. Kiko S. works as an adaptive yoga instructor and is in the process of applying to an Occupational Therapy graduate program. A former 3D Draft and Design engineer, he's currently a student at Augusta University.

 

Kathryn, as a nursing student, and Brandon, as a medical student – do you think your professors should use Atlas more? What would the benefits be for students?

Kathryn: Yes, I think it would help enrich class discussion. It would help visual learners greatly. Atlas is very visual compared to the textbook. You're able to see the pictures in 3D compared to the very limited pictures in books.

 

The Caudate Nucleus, in context

 

Brandon: I believe use of Atlas by instructors would be incredibly beneficial to the whole class, as well as the instructor. Medical school is a bit different from undergraduate school in that it requires the exploration of various resources in order to find the one or few that work for you in the quest to enhance understanding. At times, this may or may not even include the instructor's lecture (believe it or not!).

It is important to consider that instructors are generally limited to 2D visuals with anatomical descriptors, occasionally alongside graphics or videos, embedded in their prepared presentations, as they are tasked in covering copious amounts of material in the relatively brief amounts of time set aside for lecture.

Anatomical descriptors, although universally used to describe where items are in space, may not always be automatic to the novice student until some time has passed. Students are generally referred to other resources, anatomical models, and/or the cadaver to capture the 3D aspects of human development and structure. 

 

Comparing a 3D cross section with a cadaver scan

 

I feel that by incorporating Atlas into lecture, instructors and students would be able to easily access this other, third dimension and its associated views with outstanding detail in the most convenient of ways. This could be in the smooth manipulation of the Atlas model to demonstrate various structures and functions in real time or in the use of the Atlas tour/presentation function for easy incorporation into any lecture presentation.

 

A view of pelvic anatomy, in context

 

It would be an incredible supplement to the material, although I could easily see Atlas also taking precedence over other materials in many circumstances with the other modalities in a supplemental role. So whether being used in an individual capacity as one of a select few student resources or by an instructor in a group, class-wide setting, Atlas is an ideal resource that inspires innovative study of human anatomy.

 

Kiko, you work as a yoga instructor – do you think yoga students would benefit if more yoga instructors used Atlas?

Kiko: I absolutely do! Atlas makes it simple to learn a lot of relevant information with little to no hassle at all. And not only that, but the process of learning and acquiring information is a continuous process. No one is expected to know everything at once, but the ability to acquire information so easily and with so little hassle makes Atlas something I think any yoga instructor could benefit from. It's a level of accountability, because you owe it to your students to be well-informed in what you're asking them to do. 

 

A view of an interactive 3D muscle action within Human Anatomy Atlas

 


And there you have it! Whether you want to reach visual learners in a new way, supplement (or substitute!) a textbook, or give your yoga instruction a strong foundation, Human Anatomy Atlas and other 3D visual anatomy apps like it are the future of learning anatomy.

Is Human Anatomy Atlas one of your favorite teaching tools? We'd love to hear how you use it! Please share your ideas with us in the comments.
New Call-to-action Are you a professor (or know someone who is)? We have awesome visuals and resources for your anatomy and physiology course! Learn more here.

Topics: in the classroom

That Boom Boom Pow: Virtual Dissection (sort of) of the Human Heart

Posted by Courtney Smith on Fri, Jan 06, 2017 @ 03:45 PM

The heart is a bit ubiquitous. While it's responsible for keeping your body in perfectly oxygenated condition, it's also commonly used as a metaphor and a gauge of one's mettle, and is the subject of about a bajillion soft rock ballads from the 80s and 90s.

Loki_Heart.gif
Thanks, Loki.

 

I never had the good fortune of dissecting a heart in school. Sheep's brain, yes—as well as a slew of other creatures, including the biggest grasshopper I've ever seen. I asked my teacher where they were from so that I'd never go there ever, but she just smiled enigmatically and began the lesson. I'm pretty sure it was a weta.

If you're like me and still feel cheated out of the satisfaction of a heart dissection well done, then you're in luck! I'm going to peel back the heart layer by layer with Human Anatomy Atlas. Because that's just the kind of heartbreaker I am.

… I'll see myself out.


Don't have time to read? Then watch this:



A Silent Guardian, A Watchful Protector:
The Pericardium

I don't know about you, but when I first learned about the heart I was downright shocked that no one had told me that the heart basically lives inside a pillowcase. That was important information that I could have used in the 4th grade to gain extra points on our "LABEL THE HUMAN BODY" quiz (but I used it down the road as a mnemonic device in my 9th grade lab).

Pericardium-Human-Heart-Cardiovascular-System.png
Pericardium, in context

Okay, so here we have a beautiful human heart and the roots of the great vessels enclosed in a protective fibroserous sac known as the pericardium. And like Shrek, it has layers. The outer layer consists of fibrous tissue (fibrous pericardium) and an inner serous membrane (serous pericardium). The serous pericardium has layers of its own—the visceral and parietal layers—with a fluid-filled space between them called the pericardial cavity. The role of the fluid in the pericardial cavity is mainly to reduce friction on the heart as it beats.

The pericardium attaches to the central tendon and muscular fibers of the diaphragm, as well as the posterior surface of the sternum, helping it to anchor the heart in place.



The Sternal Coast:
Cardiac Muscle and The Heart Wall

The thing you're probably going to take away from this post is that layers are the lay of the land as far as the heart goes, even when it comes to the most basic component: cardiac muscle.

The heart wall is made of three distinct layers (told you) that help give the heart its shape and size. The outermost layer is epicardium, a visceral layer of serous pericardium; myocardium is the middle layer, made up of muscle fibers attached to fibrous rings; the innermost layer is endocardium, a thin and smooth membrane of connective tissue and elastic fibers that line the inner surface of the heart.

Myocardium is where a good chunk of the magic happens. Blood is distributed in and out of the heart as a result of its signature contractions (ie: your heartbeat), and those muscle contractions—stimulated by the electrical impulses delivered by the conduction system (we'll get there in a little bit)—occur in the myocardium. This is where your heartbeat originates.

Myocardium-Heart-Wall-Cardiovascular-System.png

Myocardium (highlighted)


But of course your heart isn't just pumping muscle. There are other important structures within the heart, such as the thick muscular wall that separates the ventricles known as the interventricular septum, and the conus arteriosus, a conical pouch that gives rise to the pulmonary trunk.



More Valves and Chambers Than You Can Shake
A Stick At:
The Heart Valves and Chambers

If you're playing the home game, you may not have known that there are four valves that regulate blood flow—one-way blood flow at that!—in, through, and out of the heart. Varying pressures on either side of the heart cause these valves to open and close, contributing to the process of circulation. There are also four chambers, called atria and ventricles, in which blood flows.

Let's start with the chambers!

The two upper chambers, seated on top of the heart like little muscular berets, are known as the atria. These are the blood collection chambers. The right atrium receives deoxygenated blood from the vena cavae, two of the great vessels, and the coronal sinus and then empties it into the right ventricle. The left atrium, smaller and thicker than its counterpart, receives oxygenated blood from the pulmonary veins and empties it into the left ventricle.

There are two ventricles—a right and a left—with the same job: pump blood out of the heart. However, depending on the ventricle, the destination of that blood is different. The right ventricle (Ventriculus dexter, which is now what I'm going to call my friend Dex until the day I die) is responsible for pumping deoxygenated blood into the pulmonary trunk. The left ventricle (Ventriculus sinister, which is probably a villain that didn't make it into the Star Wars prequels) pumps oxygenated blood into the aorta, where it's then distributed throughout the body.

Now onto the valves.

Each valve is made up of a group of membranous folds or cusps that open and close during the cardiac cycle.

Heart-Valves-Chambers-Ventricles.png

The heart valves (highlighted) in context

The atrioventricular valves—the tricuspid and mitral valves—get their name from their location between the atrium and the ventricles. The mitral valve, the only bicuspid valve up in here, consists of two rectangular cusps that regulate blood flow between the left atrium and left ventricle. The tricuspid valve regulates blood flow between the right atrium and right ventricle.

In the ventricles, attached to the heart wall, are papillary muscles that connect to the atrioventricular valves via string-like tendons known as chordae tendinae. With each ventricular contraction, the papillary muscles shorten and pull on the chordae tendinae, which prevents the valves from inverting. There are three papillary muscles in the right ventricle and two in the left.

Blood from the left ventricle is delivered into the aorta via the aortic valve. It's a tricuspid valve, formed by three semilunar-shaped cusps that open and close during the cardiac cycle. The cusps are larger and thicker than its pulmonary counterparts. When the ventricles contract (systole), the aortic valve opens and oxygenated blood moves into the aorta. The very moment ventricular systole ceases, the pressure of blood in the aorta closes the valve, preventing backflow into the left ventricle. It's an immediate action that happens constantly.

On the other side is the pulmonary valve, another tricuspid valve, which controls blood flow from the right ventricle into the pulmonary trunk, conveying deoxygenated blood to be replenished with oxygen in the lungs. When ventricular systole occurs, the pressure in the right ventricle exceeds that of the pulmonary trunk, forcing the pulmonary valve to open and admit blood. The moment systole stops, the pulmonary trunk closes, preventing backflow.



Goodness Greatness:
The Great Vessels of the Heart

All this blood pumping wouldn't work if there weren't a system in place. That's where the great vessels come in: they act as the relay, just the way your water pipes do! The vessels connect to the heart for pulmonary circulation and to the rest of the cardiovascular system to distribute blood throughout the body.


Superior vena cava

Inferior vena cava

Pulmonary trunk/circulation

Aorta

Carries deoxygenated blood from the upper body into the right atrium.

Carries deoxygenated blood from the lower body into the right atrium.

In a role reversal from the rest of the body's circulation system, the pulmonary arteries carry deoxygenated blood from the right ventricle to the lungs, while the pulmonary veins carry oxygenated blood back to the left ventricle for distribution via the aorta.

Delivers oxygenated blood from the left ventricle to the rest of the body.




Conduct Yourself Properly:
The Ins and Outs of The Conduction System

The fact that your heart beats constantly until the day you cease to be is incredible, and it's all thanks to the conduction system, which is exactly what it sounds like: it delivers electric impulses to muscle fibers within the heart and motivates its rhythmic contractions.

Conduction-System-Human-Heart.png

The conduction system (highlighted)

Pathways for these electrical impulses are formed by a series of bundles of specialized muscle fibers: the sinoatrial node, atrioventricular node, atrioventricular bundle of His, left and right bundle branches, and Purkinje fibers.

Like any well-working system, there are steps to how normal operation occurs. Here are the steps that the conduction system takes to kick out an electrical impulse:

  1. Initiation of the impulse at the sinoatrial node
  2. Pause of the impulse at the atrioventricular node
  3. Passage of the impulse into the bundle of His
  4. Branching of the signal into the bundle branches of each ventricle
  5. Culmination of the signal at the Purkinje fibers

Between steps 1 and 2, the atria contract, pumping blood into the ventricles. Between steps 4 and 5, the ventricles contract, pumping blood out of the heart. Each impulse takes approximately 0.22 seconds to complete each cycle.



Put It All Together and Whaddaya Got?

The human heart is an incredible organ. Yes, it's susceptible to the wear and tear of time and can be host to a bevy of ailments and diseases, but with new technologies innovating how we prolong our lives the heart could, theoretically, keep beating forever. Whether or not the rest of the body can match that is another story.

So there you have it! The human heart in a nutshell.


Be sure to subscribe to our blog so you're the first to know when part two of the brain series posts. Next time, we'll be diving inside. Stay tuned! In the meantime, you should definitely join our email list for free anatomy content, guest lectures, secret sales, product updates, and more.

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Are you a professor (or know someone who is)? We have awesome visuals and resources for your anatomy and physiology course! Learn more here.

Topics: anatomy and physiology

Year-End Roundup: The Seven Coolest Medical Stories of 2016

Posted by Courtney Smith on Fri, Dec 30, 2016 @ 03:39 PM

2016_inreview.png


Well, here we are again in the final stretch of the year. Hard to believe 2016 is over, huh? Although I won't be sad to say goodbye to it—Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds,
and George Michael, all in less than a week? 2016 had no chill.

Despite the fact that this year's Oscar In Memoriam segment is going to be 45 minutes long, 2016 also had its bright moments: it had some of the wackiest, most incredible happenings in the world of medicine.

Let's take a look at some of 2016's coolest medical stories:



YOU WOT, MATE?
Texan woman wakes up from surgery with a British accent!

Why not kick off with my favorite story from this year, which involved a woman undergoing surgery and waking up with an accent that wasn't the one she had when she went under. When I first read this back in June, I was skeptical. If anything, this woman had to be pulling a Madonna, right?

Wrong.

When she had surgery to correct her overbite, Lisa Alamia, a born-and-bred American, came out of it speaking with a completely different accent—a British one. Well, sort of. She woke up with the incredibly rare condition known as Foreign Accent Syndrome. There are only 100 known cases of it, with most resulting from neurological damage or head trauma, although Alamia's scans and tests have all come back clear.


FAS occurs when the part of the brain that deals with the actual vocals of speech (cadence, melody, rhythm, etc.) is damaged, and speech is altered in terms of timing, intonation, and tongue placement so that is perceived as sounding foreign, resulting in a new "accent." It's important to note that Alamia isn't technically speaking with a British accent; the cadence of her speech has changed to sound like it (especially to Americans like me).

According to the University of Texas at Dallas, FAS has been documented in cases around the world, including accent changes from Japanese to Korean, British English to French, American-English to British English, and Spanish to Hungarian.

So while Lisa Alamia might not be firing up the tea kettle and having bangers and mash on the regular, her new "accent" is still super cool.



BYE BYE, DIALYSIS!
The rise of the artificial kidney.

Way back toward the start of the year, a tiny Windows logo wannabe came out of Vanderbilt University in Tennessee and told the world we were approaching the day when dialysis would be a thing of the past.

artificial-kidney

Bill Gates is gonna sue someone. (Vanderbilt University)

Using silicon nanotech, Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Dr. William Fissell and his team have created a filter chip that will, with the help of living kidney cells, mimic the functionality of a healthy kidney. The promised result is that it'll be about the size of a natural kidney and will be powered by the body's own blood flow.

What's incredible about this little filter is the aforementioned kidney cells, which do things like nutrient reabsorption and getting rid of accumulated waste—something that synthetic components aren't good at.

Wanna learn more about it? Check it out here:

 




EASY THERE, AUGUSTUS GLOOP:
Consuming chocolate daily can lower your risk for
diabetes and heart disease
.

It seems almost too good to be true. Chocolate is, after all, a sugar and high fat bomb that can cause obesity and tooth decay (or an allergic reaction in my case, womp womp), so how can it be possible that eating chocolate on the reg can yield such happy results? Well, it seems through more and more focused study that moderate consumption of the confection—particularly dark chocolate—is a good thing!

I've singled out dark chocolate because it has the highest cocoa content, which means it has the highest levels of antioxidants—flavonoids, which are molecules that can prevent some forms of cell damage.

Prof. Saverio Stranges of the University of Warwick Medical School, United Kingdom and the Department of Population Health at the Luxembourg Institute of Health (LIH) and his colleagues ran the Observation of Cardiovascular Risk in Luxembourg (ORISCAV-LUX) study, which took a look at the chocolate consumption of 1,153 people between the ages of 18 and 69. The purpose of the study was to investigate whether chocolate intake is associated with insulin resistance (where the body's cells do not effectively respond to insulin, raising the risk for type 2 diabetes and heart disease), as well as how chocolate consumption affected liver enzyme levels (a measure of liver function).

Pancreas and Liver, in context


Of the participants, 81.8 percent consumed chocolate, with an average consumption of 24.8 grams daily. Compared with the participants who didn't eat chocolate, those who did had reduced insulin resistance and improved liver enzyme levels. And the more chocolate consumed, the stronger the effect.

The team published their results of their study in the British Journal of Nutrition.

So continue eating that chocolate, you chocoholics! But, you know, keep exercising and brushing your teeth too.




SMILE!
A special liquid is fighting the good fight against cavities.


And right on the heels of the chocolate story...

I have to admit, I've never had a cavity in my life. I'm a freak when it comes to my teeth. My most prized possession in my bag isn't my wallet, but my giant thing of dental floss, which gets used at least 5 times a day. But while I might be super vigilant about my teeth, there are plenty of those who aren't. I had friends in grade school who practically lived at the dentist's.

But cavities may be fighting a losing battle with the advent of silver diamine fluoride, or SDF. This special liquid has been in use for decades in Japan but has only recently been introduced to the States. Used as a desensitizer for adults, studies have shown that it can halt the progression of cavities and even prevent them altogether!

SDF is a microbial liquid that is painlessly brushed onto the teeth in less than a minute—no drills, no mess.

While SDF has an amazing effect on cavities, the same can't be said for what it does to the aesthetic of a tooth, or a patient's wallet. SDF darkens the brownish decay on a tooth, which can be unsightly for some and not worth the risk. Not to mention that until more insurers hop on the bandwagon, it's an out-of-pocket expense. Relatively cheap one, though, clocking in at $25 per treatment.

So, if you're prone to cavities and want to ditch the drill, you've got options!





SEE YA LATER, LEUKEMIA:
New blood cancer treatment shows "unprecedented" preliminary results


Okay, now we need to take this with some caution, as the findings haven't been published in a peer-reviewed journal yet, but Dr. Stanley Riddell, an immunotherapy researcher and oncologist at Seattle's Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, presented new adoptive T-cell strategies for cancer at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, D.C. on February 14th.

One of the new strategies is a therapy that uses white T-cells as, well, attack dogs. White blood cells are extracted from terminally ill cancer patients and then genetically reprogrammed to target cancer cells. The souped-up cells are then reintroduced into a patient’s bloodstream, where they make it much harder for the cancer to spread and take hold.

Riddell and his colleagues have seen "sustained regression" in many relapsing and treatment-resistant cases of B-cell malignancies: acute lymphoblastic leukemia, Non-Hodgkin lymphoma and chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

In one trial, 94 percent of terminally ill lymphoblastic leukemia patients went into remission, while patients with similar blood cancers experienced response rates greater than 80 percent, with more than half going into remission.

In November of this year, Riddell received the American Cancer Society research professorship to continue his immunotherapy research.





TASTES LIKE CHICKEN:
Changing the way humans "taste" to mosquitos
could help fight Malaria.

Mosquitos are the absolute worst—like, why are they even here? All they do is suck your blood and kill over 750,000 people a year. That's not an exaggerated number, either. Mosquitos are the deadliest animals on the planet, with their bite transmitting countless diseases. Mosquito-borne Malaria alone kills 600,000 every year. If humans didn't taste so damn good to mosquitos, think of how many lives could be saved.

Well, we're working on it. And by "we" I mean "researchers at Johns Hopkins."

They posit that because mosquitos use a bunch of different senses (smell, temperature, and sight, among others) to detect their next human host, identifying a substance that makes the taste of humans "repulsive" to the Anopheles gambiae, or malaria mosquito, could stop the transmission of the disease.

What a jerk. (J. Gathany / Public Health Image Library)


"Our goal is to let the mosquitoes tell us what smells they find repulsive and use those to keep them from biting us," said Christopher Potter, Ph.D., assistant professor of neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

The team isolated a special area of the mosquito brain to see where olfactory neurons went using a powerful genetic technique—never before accomplished in mosquitoes, according to Potter—to make certain neurons "glow" green. The green glowing label was designed to appear specifically in neurons that receive complex odors through proteins called odorant receptors (ORs), since OR neurons are known to help distinguish humans from other warm-blooded animals in Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which carry the Zika virus.

“We’d like to figure out what regions and neurons in the brain lead to this combined effect,” said Potter. “If we can identify them, perhaps we could also stop them from working.”




SOMETHING FISHY IN THE STATE OF DENMARK:
Pregnant women who take fish oil pills lower their child's
risk of having Asthma.

And last but not least on our list is an interesting study out of Denmark that found pregnant women who took fish oil pills in the later stages of their pregnancies saw lower rates of Asthma in their children. The study randomly assigned 736 pregnant women at 24 weeks of gestation, and a total of 695 children were born and 95.5% completed the 3-year, double-blind follow-up period.

Among children whose mothers took fish-oil capsules, 16.9 percent had asthma by age 3, compared with 23.7 percent whose mothers were given placebos. The difference is a risk reduction of about 31 percent. Pretty significant, right?

Well, pump the breaks before any of you pregnant readers rush out to the nearest vitamin store.

The author of the study, Dr. Hans Bisgaard, professor of pediatrics at the University of Copenhagen and the head of research at the Copenhagen Prospective Studies on Asthma in Childhood, says he isn't ready to recommend that pregnant women routinely take fish oil. While the study found no adverse effects in the mothers or babies, the doses were super high: 2.4 grams per day—15 to 20 times what most Americans consume from foods.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), asthma has more than doubled in developed countries in recent decades. More than six million children in the United States have it, as do more than 330 million children and adults worldwide.

Previous research had suggested that fish oil might help prevent asthma. Since inflammation in the airways and lungs plays a major role in asthma, and fatty acids in fish oil are thought to prevent inflammation, it seems like a no-brainer. We'll have to wait and see what further studies determine.


*****

From everyone at Visible Body, we hope you had a wonderful year with us, and we look forward to bringing you more anatomy goodness in 2017.

Happy New Year!

Topics: year end roundup

Students Say: 3D anatomy apps teach me things that textbooks can't.

Posted by Sofía Pellón on Wed, Dec 21, 2016 @ 01:10 PM

We spoke to a few students who use our 3D anatomy app Human Anatomy Atlas, and they have a lot of cool insights into how using our app helps them study and learn! As you’ll learn in this blog post, Kathryn, Brandon, and Kiko each have a different perspective on learning and teaching anatomy.

Kathryn R. is a nursing student at Salem State University who also tutors undergraduate students studying Anatomy & Physiology. Brandon B. is a first-year medical student at Northeast Ohio Medical University. Kiko S. works as an adaptive yoga instructor and is currently in the process of applying to an Occupational Therapy graduate program. A former 3D Draft and Design engineer, he's currently a student at Augusta University.

 

Here’s what Kathryn, Brandon, and Kiko have to say about the tricky anatomy topics that came to life for them with Human Anatomy Atlas:


Kathryn: I think the bones and muscles in the app are very helpful to study and learn. Atlas really helps to explain what the peritoneum is because most students can't visualize what it is. It definitely helped me!

 The Peritoneum in context, posteroinferior view


Brandon:
Topics that have really resonated with me in my use of [Atlas] have included the Circle of Willis, cranial fossa and cranial nerves, brachial and lumbosacral plexuses, the shoulder and pelvic girdles (e.g., ligaments; muscle; muscle actions), and the cubital and popliteal fossae, just to name a few... [Atlas] has made understanding the muscles involved in coordinated muscle movements, as well as their respective origins/insertions, innervations, and blood supplies, much more viable and manageable.


The Circle of Willis in context, with other cerebral vasculature

 

How about clinical applications? 

Brandon: Some of the clinical correlations have been intriguing and continue to help me put anatomical structures contributing to these conditions into perspective (e.g. Alzheimer's disease, carpal tunnel syndrome, sciatica, [etc.]). I have also enjoyed the patient education videos, such as the one on tissue repair, which efficiently clarified initial confusion in the steps of the immune response and then provided a nice summary later on in my review.


Animation still of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

 

Kiko: For one, a lot of my more athletic private clients deal with bursitis, to some capacity. This is a topic that I found much more enlightening through [Atlas], as far as diagnosis and rehabilitation were concerned. Atlas made it very easy for me to show my clients what exactly their bursae were and how they were a player in their dysfunction. Another great example – anatomical movements – comes with the new Atlas 2017, which has some amazing additional features. It's so easy to get confused with flexion and extension, protraction and retraction, abduction and adduction, and all the others. With the Atlas 2017, there's a guide with interactive videos of the isolated types of movement for each joint and the muscles involved, which helped a lot with my own confusion, and also helped for cueing students and clients. 


Lateral flexion of the spine

 

Whether it’s visualizing the peritoneum, wrapping your mind around the Circle of Willis, or developing an intuitive understanding of abduction versus adduction, learning about anatomy presents some unique challenges! We hope these insights from Kathryn, Brandon, and Kiko have given you some great ideas for how learning in 3D can meet those challenges and get students excited about anatomy.

If Human Anatomy Atlas is helping you learn or teach something in a new way, we want to hear about it! Please feel free to let us know in the comments.

 

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A Lot on Our Minds: A Virtual Human Brain Dissection with Atlas 2017

Posted by Courtney Smith on Fri, Dec 16, 2016 @ 12:26 PM

The brain is an insanely complex organ. It's the reason you're you. And as I type this, it occurs to me that this post is basically an autobiography—my brain is writing about itself. Isn't that weird? Anatomy is weird.

How many of you have had the good fortune to actually dissect a brain? In a lab setting, I mean. If you were dissecting brains on your own in your kitchen or something, that'd be super weird and I'd be wondering if your name was Hannibal Lecter. I once dissected a cat brain, but that was nowhere near as complex as the human brain, and despite our pleas to our teacher to let us dissect an actual human brain, she was smart enough not to let a group of 9th graders anywhere near one.

As Marius Kwint, curator of the Brains exhibition at the Wellcome Collection in London, once said about brain dissection, "It's pretty intense."

I don't have a brain on me, but I've got the next best thing! With Human Anatomy Atlas 2017, I'm going to do a virtual brain dissection. Sort of. But, again, because the brain is so complex and has so many structures, we're only going to look at some of the outer ones for time purposes.

Don't have the time or inclination to read? Then watch!

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Otherwise, are you ready for this? Then let's begin!

 

YES, MOTHER: The Meninges

You wouldn't think that a grayish pink, wrinkly mass that looks like a blobfish would be the key to everything that is you, but that's where the magic happens.

Before we get to the main event, let's take a look at the structures that protect the brain, starting with the skull and spinal column. They're kind of like armor; when you take a hit (while playing a sport or during a car accident), the skull and vertebrae help keep the vulnerable structures of the central nervous system (CNS) from being injured.

But take away the skeleton and there's still another layer of protection, because your body has evolved to do pretty much everything to keep the brain and spinal cord safe.

The meninges are the three layers of connective tissue that surround and protect the brain and spinal cord. Dura mater is the thick outermost layer, lining the interior of the skull and acting as a sheath around the spinal cord. The arachnoid mater, so named for its spider web–like fibers, makes arachnoid villi, or small protrusions through the dura mater into the venous sinuses of the brain. The villi allow cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) to enter the bloodstream. The pia mater, which is the deepest layer of the meninges, is a thin layer that’s impermeable to fluid, and so it cushions the brain and spinal cord by holding CSF.

"Mater" is Latin for "mother," and like any good mother the mater's job is to protect its ward. Isn't she wonderful?

The Meninges (dura, pia, and spinal mater), in context

Ever hear of meningitis? I vaguely remember being inoculated against four types of it before I went to college. Meningitis is a condition in which the meninges become inflamed, typically triggering symptoms such as headache, fever, and a stiff neck. The most common cause of meningitis is either a viral or bacterial infection. Bacterial meningitis is very serious and can even result in death if not treated within a few hours; most people recover, although permanent disabilities can result, like hearing loss and brain damage.

 


THE SUPERHIGHWAY: The Central and Peripheral Nervous Systems

Have you ever been so busy that you wished there were three of you to tackle everything you need to do? That's kind of like the nervous system. Imagine that the brain is a super overworked person who needs to delegate certain tasks; the different nervous systems are the coworkers who take on those tasks.

The central nervous system (CNS) is made up of the brain and spinal cord, as stated above. The peripheral nervous system (PNS) is made up of all the nerves and ganglia outside the CNS that connect it to all the tissues throughout the body—it's what tells your organs to keep functioning, your muscles to keep moving, etc. Within the PNS is a division known as the autonomic nervous system (ANS), which regulates involuntary function, like smooth muscle contraction and the heart beating.

Peripheral-Nerves-PNS.png

The ANS is divided into even more divisions. The sympathetic division is responsible for increasing heart rate and other body functions in response to an emergency, while the parasympathetic division is responsible for rest functions, such as digestion.

It's a team effort, as far as the PNS goes.

 

THE OLD TIMER: The Hindbrain

Okay, so if we hide the PNS and move on up the spinal cord, we'll eventually get to the hindbrain. The hindbrain is super old—it's been suggested that it first evolved from the Urbilaterian, the hypothetical last common ancestor of chordates and arthropods, somewhere between 555 and 570 million years ago. So homeboy's been around for a while.

The hindbrain, or the rhombencephalon, is an inferoposterior area of the brain that consists of the medulla oblongata, the pons, and the cerebellum. Like the PNS, the hindbrain has its own divisions: the metencephalon and the myelencephalon.

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Of the metencephalon, there is the cerebellum, which is the largest part of the hindbrain. It fine-tunes body movements and manages balance and posture, as well as some cognitive functions and puzzle solving. There's also the pons, which bridges the two main function areas of the CNS: the brain and the spinal cord, conveying signals between them via white fibers. The pons is also responsible for breathing rhythms.

Most of the myelencephalon is the medulla oblongata (coolest name ever), which is a structure that’s continuous with the spinal cord and acts as the conduction pathway between it and the brain. It controls involuntary functions of the digestive, respiratory, and circulatory systems, as well as contributes to hearing, balance, and gustation (taste).

 

LOBE IT! A Look at the Four Lobes of the Cerebrum

 

Okay, now onto the main event: the telencephalon, or the cerebrum. The cerebrum's the largest part of the brain and is categorized into functional areas called lobes. It's divided by the longitudinal fissure into two hemispheres—right and left—and is connected by the corpus callosum, which you can kind of see in the fissure.

Cerebrum-corpus-callosum-brain-nervous-system.png

The four lobes of the brain are the frontal, parietal, temporal, and occipital—and both hemispheres of the brain have these lobes. The lobes are all named after the bones that cover them.

 

The frontal lobe is where higher functions occur, like planning, problem-solving, long-term memory, impulse control, and speech and language.

Frontal-Lobe-Cerebrum-Brain.png


The parietal lobe integrates sensory information and plays a role in spatial perception—mine must be broken, because I can't seem to leave a room without bumping into the doorway.

Parietal-Lobe-Cerebrum-Brain.png


The temporal lobe contains an auditory cortex that receives input from the cochlear nerve and is responsible for primary auditory perception. It's also associated with processing sensory input into derived meanings—like attaching emotion to visuals or recognizing faces. You know that rush of love you get when you see a family member or friend? That's the temporal lobe's doing.

Temporal-Lobe-Brain-Cerebrum.png


The occipital lobe is the brain's posteriormost (and smallest!) lobe. It receives input from the eyes and processes visual perceptions—not just in terms of sight, but in terms of assigning meaning to and remembering what you're seeing.

Occipital-Lobe-Cerebrum-Brain.png

 

Now the cerebrum isn't just comprised of these four lobes. There are structures called gyri and sulci as well. A gyrus is a ridge, or a fold, between two clefts—the precentral gyrus and the postcentral gyrus, both between the frontal and parietal lobes. The gyri increase the cerebrum's surface area. The precentral gyrus contains the primary motor cortex and controls precise movements of skeletal muscles. The postcentral gyrus contains the primary somatosensory cortex and is responsible for spatial discrimination. There's a third—the cingulate gyrus—but it's part of the limbic system, which is another topic for another blog post.

Precentral-postcentral-gyrus-brain-cerebrum.png

The sulci are fissures that separate the gyri; the more prominent ones separate the lobes. The central sulcus, or the Fissure of Rolando (I lied—this is the coolest name ever), separates the frontal and parietal lobes. The less-cool named lateral sulcus separates the parietal and frontal lobes from the temporal lobe. The parieto-occipital sulcus separates—you guessed it—the parietal and occipital lobes.

Sulci-brain-cerebrum.png


And there we are! The cerebrum and some of the other structures of the outer brain. If you're feeling proud of yourself for getting through all that information, remember: it's your brain doing that. It's making you feel good about reading an article about itself.

Mind. Blown.

 

Be sure to subscribe to our blog so you're the first to know when part two of the brain series posts. Next time, we'll be diving inside. Stay tuned! In the meantime, you should definitely join our email list for free anatomy content, guest lectures, secret sales, product updates, and more.

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Brrrr! A Chilling Look at Adhesive Capsulitis (Frozen Shoulder)

Posted by Madison Oppenheim on Fri, Oct 14, 2016 @ 02:24 PM

Frozen shoulder—no, it’s not when your arm goes numb because you got hit with too many snowballs—or as the professionals call it, adhesive capsulitis, is a condition that occurs when the capsule surrounding your shoulder joint thickens and contracts, causing adhesions to develop.

Your Shoulder's Winter Coat

Your shoulder is a ball-and-socket joint made up of your humerus (upper arm), scapula (shoulder blade), and clavicle (collarbone). The humerus’ head fits snuggly into your shoulder blade’s socket and is covered by strong connective tissue, kind of like a jacket. Now you’re probably wondering, how do I move my arm to throw snowballs and build a snowman (or woman, hey ladies!) if the bones rub back and forth—won’t that hurt? Well, the joint has synovial fluid inside that keeps it lubricated and prevents friction, so there’s no pain!

Shoulder-Girdle-articular-capsule-frozen-shoulder.png


Let It Go: Frozen Shoulder

Get it? All right, that's the one and only "Frozen" joke I'm gonna make.

As I mentioned above, adhesive capsulitis is when the capsule becomes tight and stiff bands of tissue (adhesions) develop. There’s usually less of the synovial fluid in the joint, too. 

The tell-tale sign of frozen shoulder is immobility: being unable to move your shoulder (even with the help of a friend). 

Other symptoms include a dull or aching pain that’s typically located over the outer area and sometimes upper arm and is usually worse when you move it. 

 

Pictured: Adhesive capsulitis

There are three stages in the development and repair of frozen shoulder and they’re similar to a popsicle: freezing, frozen, and thawing.

In the freezing stage pain gradually increases until the shoulder loses range of motion. This usually lasts anywhere from six weeks to nine months. 

Next, in the frozen stage the stiffness remains and the painful symptoms may decrease over four to six months.

And finally, in the thawing stage, shoulder motion finally returns (yay!). Unfortunately, complete recovery can take up to two years. 

 

Back in the Game: Treatments for Adhesive Capsulitis

There are a variety of treatments to help you get back into your snow fort and more than 90% of patients improve with relatively simple nonsurgical ones. 

Physical therapy may help restore motion, while non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines can reduce pain and swelling. You can also opt for cortisone injections directly into the affected joint, which may reduce inflammation. 

If your doctor recommends surgery, there are a few options, like manipulation under anesthesia, or a shoulder arthroscopy.

 

Next time it snows, put on your big-kid pants and go outside. Enjoy the fresh snowfall and be glad you can throw snowballs to your heart’s content without any pain!


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Topics: learn skeleton anatomy

Hip, Hip, Hooray: Understanding Hip Osteoarthritis and Hip Replacements

Posted by Madison Oppenheim on Thu, Sep 15, 2016 @ 07:40 AM

Today's blog post is brought to you in part by the saying "you don't know what you have until it's gone."

Your hip is an essential joint that I'm sure you don't put much thought into during the day while you bend down to tie your shoe or get out of your chair for your three o'clock bathroom break. But neither of those activities would be possible without it. 

  

Do the Hula: Anatomy of The Hip

The hula hoop is a classic childhood activity seconded only by the limbo. When doing hula, you shake and shimmy until you drop the hoop and/or beat your competitor (I always made everything into a competition). Your hip enables you to shake your way to victory and beat Ashley, who is weak

Your hip is a ball-and-socket joint that gives you mobility in all directions: forward, backward, left, and right, as well as some rotation. It’s comprised of the pelvis and femoral head (upper part of femur). The femur articulates at a concave surface formed by the hip bones, called the acetabulum. 

IMG_5751.png

The proximal head of the femur and acetabulum's surface is covered by articular cartilage that decreases friction and protects the bones.
 

OsteNOarthritis!

As we get older, things start going south.

Osteoarthritis is something you’ve probably heard about, thrown around in conversations with your aunt, and unfortunately with age, it can be like a dark cloud, looming over your head and following you everywhere—even to your trip to the store for Q-tips. 

Osteoarthritis is sometimes referred to as "degenerative joint disease" because the cartilage on the surface of joints is worn away with wear-and-tear. This can cause pain and stiffness, and can make it difficult to complete daily tasks (e.g., the bathroom break mentioned above).

IMG_5749.png

It’s a degenerative type of arthritis that usually occurs in people over age 50, but it may pop up in younger people, too. The cartilage in the joint wears away over time and becomes frayed and rough, exposing bone surfaces beneath, which causes the pain. 

Other symptoms include tenderness, stiffness, and pain (obviously). 

There are many risk factors that can cause osteoarthritis besides age, including a family history of osteoarthritis, a hip joint injury, obesity, and developmental dysplasia of the hip (improper hip joint formation at birth).

Although there’s no cure for osteoarthritis, there are some possible treatments for the pain and to improve your mobility. 

Lifestyle changes are an option that can protect your hip joint and slow the osteoarthritis process down. These include minimizing activities that will make it worse (take the elevator instead of the stairs), switching from high-impact to low-impact activities (from running to swimming), and losing weight, which reduces stress on the joint. 

Physical therapy can help improve range of motion and flexibility, as well as strengthen muscles in the hip and leg. 

There are also assistive devices like canes, crutches, and walkers that can improve mobility and can make you feel more independent. Long-handled reachers can help you pick up low things so you don't have to bend over and experience pain. 

There are also a variety of medications to treat pain: acetaminophen (over-the-counter pain reliever you can grab at your local drugstore), nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, which relieve pain and reduce inflammation, and corticosteroids, which are powerful anti-inflammatory drugs that can be taken orally or injected into the joint. 

 

Hip Op: Surgical Treatments

Hip hop, jazz, EDM, take your pick. After your pain is relieved you’ll want to get up and dance! 

If your doctor recommends surgery to treat your hip osteoarthritis, there are a few options.

An osteotomy is where either the femoral head or the socket is cut and realigned—this takes pressure off of the hip joint.

There’s also hip resurfacing, where the damaged bone and cartilage in the acetabulum are removed and a metal shell is placed instead. The femoral head is capped with a smooth metal covering to reduce friction.

The last option is a total hip replacement. Both the damaged acetabulum and the femoral head are removed and replaced with either metal, plastic, or ceramic joint surfaces to restore the hip's function. So basically you can become bionic (if you choose metal, talk to your doctor about your options). 

 

IMG_5752.png

 



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Source: "Osteoarthritis of the Hip." OrthoInfo. Web. 21 Jul 2016. 

Topics: 3D skeletal system

Chew on This: A Look at the Temporomandibular Joint and TMD

Posted by Madison Oppenheim on Fri, Sep 09, 2016 @ 09:11 AM

Now, I love singing along to the newest Taylor Swift song alone in the car as much as the next gal, but this essential part of my drive to work wouldn't be possible without today's unsung hero: the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). 

The TMJ gets a bad rap because most people associate it with its disorder, which is so unfair. The TMJ and its accomplices are fundamental in allowing jaw movement. Sing along with Swift? TMJ. Open your mouth to let out a bone-crackingly good yawn? TMJ. Yell at characters in horror movies who are stupid enough to open the door? TMJ. 

 

The temporomandibular joint, circledThe TMJ and its partners-in-crime: the stylomandibular ligament and sphenomandibular ligament. 

 

From TMJ to TMD: A Requiem

If you suffer from the pain associated with temporomandibular disorder, or TMD, it may feel like Swift’s "Shake It Off" turns into R.E.M.'s "Everybody Hurts."

The pain is usually concentrated around your jaw and temporomandibular joints, but can also be in and around your ear, as well as your face. You may also have difficulty opening and closing your mouth or chewing.

The TMJ, in mandibular depression


TMD can be caused by a variety of things, including arthritis, dislocation, injury, tooth and jaw alignment, and teeth grinding.

If you have pain or tenderness in your jaw or can't close your jaw completely you should see your doc and get it checked out. 

 

TrEATment: Getting Back to the Butterfingers

I don't know about you, but whenever I hear about issues with my mouth, my first thought is "When can I eat again?" 

With TMD sometimes symptoms go away without treatment, but if not, there are plenty of ways to get you back to your gummy bears, pretzels, apples (since it’s important to touch upon nutrition), and Snickers bars. 

Medications like anti-inflammatories, pain relievers, tricyclic antidepressants, and muscle relaxants can improve your symptoms, and nondrug therapies are also beneficial. 

Mouth guards, physical therapy, and counseling are all options to inform you and help with symptoms. Your doctor may recommend certain procedures if the treatments above aren’t satisfactory, including corticosteroid injections and arthrocentesis (in which fluid is injected into the joint so it can remove debris/inflammation).

There are also a few surgical options available if more conservative approaches don't work. In TMJ arthroscopy, a small cannula is placed into the joint space and has fewer risks than open-joint surgery. With modified condylotomy, the surgery is performed on the mandible and not the joint itself, and is helpful for the treatment of pain. Finally, there’s also open-joint surgery, which may sound frightening, so make sure to speak with your doctor about all the pros and cons. 

 

Now next time "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" comes on the radio, you can thank your TMJ for letting you sing along.

 



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Sources:

 "TMJ." American Dental Association. Web. 21 Jul 2016.

"TMJ Disorders". Mayo Clinic. Web. 21 Jul 2016. 

Topics: learn muscle anatomy

In a Pinch: The Anatomy and Pathology of Cervical Radiculopathy

Posted by Madison Oppenheim on Mon, Aug 22, 2016 @ 08:34 AM


No matter how many thousands of dollars you spend on plastic surgery or hours you spend in the gym doing squats, you can't stop the march of time. Everyone is afraid of getting older and the pain that comes with it: arthritis, herniated discs, and pinched nerves, to name a few.

Cervical radiculopathy, commonly known as a pinched nerve, affects 84 out of every 100,000 people per year and occurs when a spinal nerve root in the neck is compressed. 

 

The Back Bone's Connected to the Neck Bone 

The "back bone" is actually a collection of 24 stacked vertebrae that protect your spinal cord from the daily disasters of life. The first 7 vertebrae comprise the cervical spine, a.k.a. your neck. Between each vertebra are intervertebral discs, which are flexible and composed of two parts: the annulus fibrosusthe flexible, tough outer ringand the nucleus pulposusthe soft, pulpy, and highly elastic center. These discs are essential in absorbing shock in everyday movements, like when your friend calls your name from down the hall behind you and your neck snaps around to see who it is, or when "your song" comes on the radio and you bop your head up and down in the car.

Cervical vertebrae and peripheral nerves                    

The spinal cord is like the body's message highwayrelaying information from the brain to the peripheral nerves throughout your body. When your brain tells you to scratch that bug bite on your foot, the message travels down the spinal cord to your arm, which completes the action. 

 

What Is Cervical Radiculopathy?

So we covered the cervical part - relating to your cervical spine, but where does the "radiculopathy" part come from? Radiculopathy is the disease of a nerve root, usually stemming from a pinched nerve. The pain caused by cervical radiculopathy is usually descibed as a burning or sharp pain that begins in the neck and travels down the arm. Other symptoms can include tingling or the feeling of "pins and needles" in the fingers or hand; weakness in the muscles of the arm, shoulder, or hand; and loss of sensation. 

Cervical radiculopathy -- a pinched nerve

A pinched nerve can occur from degenerative changes or an injury to a disc. As I mentioned above, no one is safe from the effects of aging, and as we get older our spine shrinks and can lose water content. This combination leads to a collapse of disc space, which creates bone spurs as the body tries to make up for the lost strength. Bone spurs can cause the foramensmall spaces between vertebrae for nerve roots to leave throughto narrow. These degenerative changes are also known as arthritis or spondylosis. 

We've probably all heard the phrase "Grandpa's got a herniated disc" at one time or another, but what does that even mean? A herniated disc occurs when the nucleus pulposus (the soft center) pushes against the annulus fibrosus (the tough outer ring). If the disc bulges out toward the spinal canal, it applies pressure against the nerve root, causing pain.

 

Relief and Treatment for Cervical Radiculopathy

The majority of patients with cervical radiculopathy get better over time and do not require treatment, although there are options available to relieve discomfort. One such option is a soft cervical collar: a padded ring that wraps around the neck and allows the muscles to relax and limits motion.

Physical therapy is another option that can help relieve pain and improve range of motion while also strengthening neck muscles.

There are also many medications including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, oral corticosteroids, steroid injections, and narcotics that can improve symptoms. 

If the nonsurgical teatment is not successful, surgery is also an option your doctor may recommend. 

 

Although there is nothing we can do to prevent getting old and wrinkly and eating mushy food, you can prevent cervical radiculopathy from recurring by maintaining proper posture, continuing regular exercise, being mindful of unnecessary forces on your spine (stop spending your days scrolling through Facebook), and keeping a healthy weight.



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Topics: anatomy and physiology