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The effective thoracic and lumbar pedicle diameter as related to screw size for that pedicle was studied in six fresh-frozen human cadaver spines. Measurements of the pedicle were obtained before screw insertion using axial and coronal reformatted computed tomographic (CT) Images, as well as graduated sounding of the pedicle. After sequentially loading each pedicle with increasingly larger screws, measurements were taken of the outer cortical diameters. Plastic deformation of the pedicle preceded pedicle fracture or cutout when the screw thread diameter became larger than the endosteal diameter or within 80% of the outer cortical diameter as measured from the CT scan. Pedicle screws did not obtain cortical purchase within the pedicle.