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J Biomech. 2001 May;34(5):579-87.

Correlation of thoracic and lumbar vertebral failure loads with in situ vs. ex situ dual energy X-ray absorptiometry.

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  • 1Frauenklinik der Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Innenstadt, Maistr. 11, D 80337, München, Germany.


In this study we explore the hypothesis that estimates of failure loads in the thoracic spine by lumbar dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) are compromised of skeletal heterogeneity throughout the spine and artifacts of spinal DXA. We studied the correlation between mechanical failure loads of thoracic and lumbar vertebrae, and that of in situ vs. ex situ lumbar DXA with thoracic and lumbar fracture loads, respectively. One hundred and nineteen subjects (76 female, age 82+/-9yr; 43 male, age 77+/-11yr) were examined under in situ conditions (anterior-posterior direction), the scans being repeated ex situ (lateral projection) in 68 cases. The failure loads of thoracic vertebrae (T) 6 and 10, and lumbar vertebra (L) 3 were determined in axial compression, using a functional 3-segment unit. The correlation between thoracic failure loads (T6 vs. T10) was significantly (p<0.01) higher (r=0.85) than those between thoracic and lumbar vertebrae (r=0.68 and 0.61, respectively). Lateral ex situ DXA displayed a significantly higher correlation (p<0.05) with lumbar vertebral fracture loads than in situ anterior-posterior DXA (r=0.85 vs. 0.71), but the correlation of thoracic failure loads with lateral ex situ lumbar DXA was similar to that obtained in situ in anterior-posterior direction (r=0.69 vs. 0.69 for T10, and r=0.61 vs. 0.65 for T6). The correlation between fracture loads of different spinal segments, and between DXA and failure loads was not significantly different between men and women. The results demonstrate a substantial heterogeneity of mechanical competence throughout the spine in elderly individuals. Because of the high incidence of fractures in the thoracic spine, these findings suggest that, clinically, lateral DXA involves no relevant advantage over anterior-posterior measurements of the lumbar spine.

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