The Effect of Locking Fixation Screws on the Stability of Anterior Cervical Plating

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Abstract

Study Design.

Current anterior cervical plate systems were tested with locked and unlocked fixation screws and with unicortical and bicortical fixation screws to determine fixation rigidity and pull-off strengths.

Objectives.

To evaluate the effects of screw-plate locking and screw length on fixation strength and stability of anterior cervical plates.

Summary of Background Data.

New plate systems provide for rigid locking of the screw-plate interface, the-oretically increasing construct rigidity, allowing unicortical fixation, and preventing screw back-out. There are few data on the effects of locking screws on the stability of anterior cervical plating.

Methods.

Eighty fresh lamb vertebrae (C3-T1) were used. Test systems included: Cervical Spine Locking Plate (CSLP; Synthes, Paoli, PA, Orion plate (Sofamor-Danek, Memphis, TN), and Acroplate (AcroMed, Cleveland, OH). The CSLP and Orion plates were tested with fixation screws, locked and unlocked, and the AcroMed plate with unicortical and bicortical screw purchase. Biomechanical testing of the screw-plate constructs was performed to determine the initial bone-plate rigidity and pull-off strength. A 2.5-Nm cyclic bending moment was then applied to additional constructs for 105 cycles, and these constructs retested.

Results.

Locked CSLP and Orion constructs were more rigid than all unlocked unicortical systems initially and after cyclic loading (P < 0.05). After cycling, the rigidity of all unlocked unicortical constructs decreased significantly (P < 0.05). There was no significant difference in pull-off strengths between the CSLP, the Orion, and the unicortical AcroMed plate. However, all had significantly less pull-off strength than the AcroMed plate with bicortical screws. A negative correlation was observed between initial pull-off strength and sagittal vertebral body diameter.

Conclusions.

Locking screws significantly increased the rigidity of the tested screw-plate systems initially and after cyclic loading. Because pull-off strength was affected by the vertebral body diameter, use of longer unicortical screws may be clinically beneficial in the patient with larger cervical vertebrae.

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