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Insertion of an anterior lumbar interbody fusion cage has been shown to reduce motion in a human spine segment in all loading directions except extension. The “stand-alone” cages depend on compressive preload produced by anular pretensioning and muscle forces for initial stabilization. However, the effect that the in vivo compressive preload generated during activities of daily living has on the construct is not fully understood. This study tested the hypothesis that the ability of the cages to reduce the segmental motions in flexion and extension is significantly affected by the magnitude of the externally applied compressive preload.


Fourteen specimens from human lumbar spines were tested intact and after insertion of two threaded cylindrical cages at level L5-Sl. They were subjected to flexion and extension moments under progressively increasing magnitudes of externally applied compressive follower preload from 0 to 1200 N. The range of motion at level L5-S1 after cage insertion was compared with the value achieved in the intact specimens at each compressive preload magnitude.


The cages significantly reduced the L5-S1 flexion motion at all preloads (p < 0.05). They decreased flexion motion by 29% to 43% of that of the intact specimens for low preloads (0 to 400 N) and by 69% to 79% of that of the intact specimens under preloads of 800 to 1200 N. In extension, in the absence of an externally applied preload, the cages permitted 24% more motion than the intact segment (p < 0.05). In contrast, they reduced the extension motion at preloads from 200 to 1200 N. Under preloads of 800 to 1200 N, the reduction in extension motion after cage placement was 42% to 48% of that of the intact segment (p < 0.05). The reduction of motion in both flexion and extension after cage placement was significantly greater at preloads of 800 to 1200 N compared with the motion reductions at preloads of ≤400 N (p < 0.05).


In contrast to the observed extension instability under anular tension preload only, the two-cage construct exerted a stabilizing effect on the motion segment (a reduction in segmental motion) in flexion as well as extension under externally applied compressive preloads of physiologic magnitudes. The external compressive preload significantly affected the stabilization provided by the cages. The cages provided substantially more stabilization, both in flexion and in extension, at larger preloads than at smaller preloads.

Clinical Relevance:

The study suggests that the segment treated with an anterior lumbar interbody fusion cage is relatively less stable under conditions of low external compressive preload. The magnitude of preload required to achieve stabilization with stand-alone cages may be only partially achieved by anular pretensioning. Since the magnitude of the preload across the disc space due to muscle activity can vary with activities of daily living, supplemental stabilization of the cage construct may provide a more predictably stable environment for lumbar spine fusion.

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