The Stabilizing System of the Spine. Part II. Neutral Zone and Instability Hypothesis
The neutral zone is a region of intervertebral motion around the neutral posture where little resistance is offered by the passive spinal column. Several studies—in vitro cadaveric, in vivo animal, and mathematical simulations—have shown that the neutral zone is a parameter that correlates well with other parameters indicative of instability of the spinal system. It has been found to increase with injury, and possibly with degeneration, to decrease with muscle force increase across the spanned level, and also to decrease with instrumented spinal fixation. In most of these studies, the change in the neutral zone was found to be more sensitive than the change in the corresponding range of motion. The neutral zone appears to be a clinically important measure of spinal stability function. It may increase with injury to the spinal column or with weakness of the muscles, which in turn may result in spinal instability or a low-back problem. It may decrease, and may be brought within the physiological limits, by osteophyte formation, surgical fixation/fusion, and muscle strengthening. The spinal stabilizing system adjusts so that the neutral zone remains within certain physiological thresholds to avoid clinical instability.