Prediction of the human thoracic and lumbar articular facet joint morphometry from radiographic images

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The articular facet joints (AFJ) play an important role in the biomechanics of the spine. Although it is well known that some AFJ dimensions (e.g. facet height/width or facet angles) play a major role in spinal deformities such as scoliosis, little is known about statistical correlations between these dimensions and the size of the vertebral bodies. Such relations could allow patient-specific prediction of AFJ morphometry from a few dimensions measurable by X-ray. This would be of clinical interest and could also provide parameters for mathematical modeling of the spine. Our purpose in this study was to generate prediction equations for 20 parameters of the human thoracic and lumbar AFJ from T1 to L4 as a function of only one given parameter, the vertebral body height posterior (VBHP). Linear and nonlinear regression analyses were performed with published anatomical data, including linear and angular dimensions of the AFJ and vertebral body heights, to find the best functions to describe the correlations between these parameters. Third-order polynomial regressions, in contrast to the linear, exponential and logarithmic regressions, provided moderate to high correlations between the AFJ parameters and vertebral body heights; e.g. facet height superior and interfacet width (R2, 0.605-0.880); facet height inferior, interfacet height and sagittal/transverse angle superior (R2, 0.875-0.973). Different correlations were found for facet width and transverse angle inferior in the thoracic (R2, 0.703-0.930) and lumbar (R2, 0.457-0.892) regions. A set of 20 prediction equations for AFJ parameters was generated (P-values < 0.005, ANOVA). Comparison of the AFJ predictions with experimental data indicated mean percent errors < 13%, with the exception of the thoracolumbar junction (T12-L1). It was possible to establish useful predictions for human thoracic and lumbar AFJ dimensions based on the size of the vertebral bodies. The generated set of equations allows the prediction of 20 AFJ parameters per vertebral level from the measurement of the parameter VBHP, which is easily performed on lateral X-rays. As the vertebral body height is unique for each person and vertebral level, the predicted AFJ parameters are also specific to an individual. This approach could be used for parameterized patient-specific modeling of the spine to explore the clinically important mechanical roles of the articular facets in pathological conditions, such as scoliosis.

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