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J Biomech. 1986;19(4):331-50.

A finite element study of a lumbar motion segment subjected to pure sagittal plane moments.


A nonlinear finite element program has been developed and applied to the analysis of a three-dimensional model of the lumbar L2-3 motion segment subjected to sagittal plane moments. The analysis accounts for both material and geometric nonlinearities and is based on the Updated Lagrangian approach. The disc nucleus has been considered as an incompressible inviscid fluid and the annulus as a composite of collagenous fibres embedded in a matrix of ground substance. Articulation at the facet joints has been treated as a general moving contact problem and the spinal ligaments have been modelled as a collection of nonlinear axial elements. Effects of the loss of intradiscal pressure in flexion and of facetectomy in extension have been analyzed. Comparison of the predicted gross response characteristics with available measurements indicates satisfactory agreement. In flexion relatively large intradiscal pressures are generated, while in extension negative pressures (i.e. suction) of low magnitude are predicted. The stress distribution results indicate that the load transfer path through the posterior elements of the joint in flexion is different from that in extension. In flexion the ligaments are the means of load transfer, while in extension the load is transmitted through the pedicles, laminae and articular processes. In flexion, the inner annulus fibres at the posterolateral location are subject to maximum tensile strain. It is suggested that large flexion moment in combination with other loads is a likely cause of disc prolapse commonly found at this location of the annulus.

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