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

May 2003, Volume 12, Issue 6, pp 556 - 561 Original Article Read Full Article 10.1007/s00586-003-0556-5

First Online: 29 May 2003

Intervertebral cages in the lumbar spine represent an advancement in spinal fusion to relieve low back pain. Different implant designs require different endplate preparations, but the question of to what extent preservation of the bony endplate might be necessary remains unanswered. In this study the effects of endplate properties and their distribution on stresses in a lumbar functional spinal unit were investigated using finite-element analyses. Three-dimensional finite-element models of L2-L3 with and without a cage were used. An anterior approach for a monobloc, box-shaped cage was modelled. The results showed that inserting a cage increased the maximum von Mises stress and changed the load distribution in the adjacent structures. A harder endplate led to increased concentration of the stress peaks and high stresses were propagated further into the vertebral body, into areas that would usually not experience such stresses. This may cause structural changes and provide an explanation for the damage occurring to the underlying bone, as well as for the subsequent subsidence of the cage. Stress distributions were similar for the two endplate preparation techniques of complete endplate preservation and partial endplate removal from the centre. It can be concluded that cages should be designed such that they rely on the strong peripheral part of the endplate for support and offer a large volume for the graft. Furthermore, the adjacent vertebrae should be assessed to ensure that they show sufficient density in the peripheral regions to tolerate the altered load transfer following cage insertion until an adequate adaptation to the new loading situation is produced by the remodelling process.

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