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J Bone Joint Surg Br. 2004 Apr;86(3):457-61.

The significance of radiolucent zones surrounding pedicle screws. Definition of screw loosening in spinal instrumentation.

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Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Uppsala University, Sweden.


We examined the radiographs from a prospective clinical study of fixation by pedicle screws and those from an experimental study in a sheep model. In the clinical study, instruments were removed from 21 patients after implantation for 11 to 16 months and the extraction torques of the screws were recorded. A structured protocol was used for the radiological examinations. In the experimental study, loaded pedicle screw instrumentations were implanted in the sheep for six or 12 weeks. After radiological examination the pull-out resistance and the histological characteristics were studied. In the clinical study, all screws with radiolucent zones had a significantly reduced mean extraction torque compared with screws without radiolucent zones (16 +/- 10 Ncm v 403 +/- 220 Ncm; p < 0.0001). In the experimental study the mean maximum pull-out resistance for the screws with radiolucent zones was significantly lower than for those with no radiolucency (243 +/- 156 N v2214 +/- 578 N; p = 0.0006) and the mean bone-to-screw contact was reduced for screws with zones compared with those without zones (8 +/- 9% v 55 +/- 29%; p = 0.0002). Our findings showed that all screws with radiolucent zones had low extraction torques or low pull-out resistance. A radiolucent zone is a good indicator of loosening of a pedicle screw.

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