Anne Polikeit, Stephen J. Ferguson, Lutz P. Nolte, Tracy E. Orr

December 2002, Volume 12, Issue 4, pp 413 - 420 Original Article Read Full Article 10.1007/s00586-002-0505-8

First Online: 19 December 2002

Intervertebral cages in the lumbar spine have been an advancement in spinal fusion to relieve low back pain. Even though initial stability is accepted as a requirement for fusion, there are other factors. The load transfer and its effect on the tissues adjacent to the cage may also play an essential role, which is not easily detectable with experimental tests. In this study the effects of an intervertebral cage insertion on a lumbar functional spinal unit were investigated using finite element analyses. The influences of cage material, cancellous bone density and spinal loading for the stresses in a functional spinal unit were evaluated. Three-dimensional (3D) finite element models of L2-L3 were developed for this purpose. An anterior approach for a monobloc, box-shaped cage was modelled. Models with cage were compared to the corresponding intact ones. The results showed that inserting a cage increased the maximum von Mises stress and changed the load transfer in the adjacent structures. Varying the cage material or the loading conditions had a much smaller influence than varying the cancellous bone density. The denser the cancellous bone, the more the stress was concentrated underneath the cage, while the remaining regions were unloaded. This study showed that the density of the underlying cancellous bone is a more important factor for the biomechanical behaviour of a motion segment stabilized with a cage, and its eventual clinical success, than the cage material or the applied load. Inserting an intervertebral cage markedly changed the load transfer. The altered stress distribution may trigger bone remodelling and explain damage of the underlying vertebrae.

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