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Spine J. 2013 Sep;13(9):1134-47. doi: 10.1016/j.spinee.2013.02.010. Epub 2013 Mar 15.

Intervertebral disc degeneration alters lumbar spine segmental stiffness in all modes of loading under a compressive follower load.

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Department of Mechanical Engineering, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT 84602, USA.



Previous studies have investigated the relationship between the degeneration grade of the intervertebral disc (IVD) and the flexibility of the functional spinal unit (FSU) but were completed at room temperature without the presence of a compressive follower load. This study builds on previous work by performing the testing under more physiological conditions of a compressive follower load at body temperature and at near 100% humidity.


The present work evaluates the effects of IVD degeneration on segmental stiffness, range of motion (ROM), hysteresis area, and normalized hysteresis (hysteresis area/ROM). This study also briefly evaluates the effect of the segment level, temperature, and follower load on the same parameters.


In vitro human cadaveric biomechanical investigation.


Twenty-one FSUs were tested in the three primary modes of loading at both body temperature and room temperature in a near 100% humidity environment. A compressive follower load of 440 N was applied to simulate the physiological conditions. Fifteen of the 21 segments were also tested without the follower load to determine the effects of the follower load on segmental biomechanics. The grade of degeneration for each segment was determined using the Thompson scale, and the torque-rotation curves were fit with the Dual-Inflection-Point Boltzmann sigmoid curve.


Intervertebral disc degeneration resulted in statistically significant changes in segmental stiffness, ROM, and hysteresis area in axial rotation (AR) and lateral bending (LB) and statistically significant changes in ROM and normalized hysteresis in flexion-extension (FE). The progression of these changes with increased degeneration is nonlinear, with changes in the FE and LB tending to respond in concert and opposite to the changes in AR. The lumbosacral joint was significantly stiffer and demonstrated a decreased ROM and hysteresis area as compared with other lumbar segments in AR and LB. Temperature had a significant effect on the stiffness and hysteresis area in AR and on the hysteresis area in LB. Application of a compressive follower load increased the stiffness in all three modes of loading but was significant only in AR and LB. It also reduced the ROM and increased normalized hysteresis in all three modes of loading.


The results from this testing quantify the effects of degeneration on spinal biomechanics. Because the testing was conducted under physiological conditions (including a compressive follower load and at body temperature), we expect the measured response to closely match the in vivo response. The testing results can be used to guide the selection of appropriate surgical treatments in the context of IVD degeneration and to validate the mathematical and engineering models of the lumbar spine, including finite element models.


Biomechanics; Cadaveric testing; Disc degeneration; Follower load

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