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Critical Reviews™ in Neurobiology

ISSN Print: 0892-0915

Archives: Volume 10, 1996 to Volume 20, 2008

Critical Reviews™ in Neurobiology

DOI: 10.1615/JLongTermEffMedImplants.v18.i4.20
pages 269-288

Effects of Intervertebral Disk Degeneration on the Flexibility of the Human Thoracolumbar Spine

M. A. Tyndyk
National Centre for Biomedical Engineering Science, National University of Ireland, Galway; Department of Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering, National University of Ireland, Galway
J. P. McGarry
National Centre for Biomedical Engineering Science, National University of Ireland, Galway; Department of Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering, National University of Ireland, Galway
V. Barron
P. E. McHugh
National Centre for Biomedical Engineering Science, National University of Ireland, Galway; Department of Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering, National University of Ireland, Galway
D. O'Mahoney
National Centre for Biomedical Engineering Science, National University of Ireland, Galway
W. Tawackoli
Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles, CA
Michael Liebschner
Baylor College of Medicine

ABSTRACT

The objective of this study was to investigate the effects of intervertebral disk degeneration on the flexibility of the thoracolumbar spine in flexion and extension, both experimentally and computationally. A seven-level biomechanically tested human cadaveric spine (T11-L5) and a 3D finite element model of the same thoracolumbar spine were used for this purpose. The anatomically accurate computer model was generated from detailed computed tomography images and included the vertebral shell, the trabecular centrum, cartilage endplates, intervertebral disks, seven spinal ligament groups, and the facet joints. The cadaveric spinal segment and the specimen-specific finite element model were subjected to various compressive loads ranging from 75 to 975 N using the follower load principle and an oscillating bending moment of ±5 Nm applied in the sagittal plane. The biomechanical behavior of the finite element model of the spine was validated with the experimental mechanical test data for the corresponding physical thoracolumbar spine specimen. In addition, the effect of intervertebral disk material property variation within the thoracolumbar spinal column on the spinal flexibility was extensively studied. The results of this study provided significant insight into how mechanical properties of the intervertebral disk influence spinal flexibility along the thoracolumbar spinal column. It was found that in order to get comparable results between experimental and computed data, the material properties of the intervertebral disks had to vary along the spinal column. However, these effects are diminished with increasing axial compressive load. Because of the trend between disk properties and spinal level, we further concluded that there might be a mechanism at play that links endplate size, body weight fraction, and segmental flexibility. More studies are needed to further investigate that relationship.