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J Biomech. 2006;39(13):2484-90. Epub 2005 Sep 29.

Analysis of the influence of disc degeneration on the mechanical behaviour of a lumbar motion segment using the finite element method.

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Biomechanics Laboratory, Charité-Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Campus Benjamin Franklin, Hindenburgdamm 30, D-12203 Berlin, Germany. <>


Compared to a healthy intervertebral disc, the geometry and the material properties of the involved tissues are altered in a degenerated disc. It is not completely understood how this affects the mechanical behaviour of a motion segment. In order to study the influence of disc degeneration on motion segment mechanics a three-dimensional, nonlinear finite element model of the L3/L4 functional unit was used. Different grades of disc degeneration were simulated by varying disc height and bulk modulus of the nucleus pulposus. The model was loaded with pure moments of 10Nm in the three main anatomic planes. The finite element model predicted the same trends for intersegmental rotation and intradiscal pressure as described in the literature for in vitro studies. A comparison between calculated intersegmental rotation and experimental data showed a mean difference of 1.9 degrees while the mean standard deviation was 2.5 degrees . A mildly degenerated disc increases intersegmental rotation for all loading cases. With further increasing disc degeneration intersegmental rotation is decreased. For axial rotation the decrease takes place in the final stage. Intradiscal pressure is lower while facet joint force and maximum von Mises stress in the annulus are higher in a degenerated compared to a healthy disc.

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