Anterior Cervical Plating Reverses Load Transfer Through Multilevel Strut-Grafts

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Abstract

Study Design.

In vitro biomechanical study using a programmable testing apparatus that replicated physiologic flexion/extension cervical spine motion and loading mechanics.

Objective.

To determine the influence of anterior plating on multilevel cervical strut-graft mechanics in vitro.

Summary of Background Data.

The addition of anterior instrumentation does not prevent construct failure in multilevel cervical corpectomy.

Methods.

Six fresh human cadaveric cervical spines (C2–T1) were tested in the four following sequential conditions: harvested, C4–C6 corpectomy, strut-grafted, and strut-grafted with an anterior cervical plate. A force-sensing strut-graft was used to measure compression/tension, flexion/extension and lateral bending moments, and axial torsion. Parameters of stiffness, vertebral motion, and strut-graft loads were compared to determine differences between the four spine conditions.

Results.

Application of the anterior plate significantly increased the global stiffness (P < 0.01) and decreased the local motion (P ≤ 0.01) of the instrumented levels (C3–C7). Flexion of the strut-grafted spine loaded the strut-graft, whereas extension unloaded the strut-graft. With the anterior plate, flexion of the plated spine unloaded the strut-graft. Extension significantly loaded the strut-graft more than similar degrees of flexion in the strut-grafted condition (P = 0.01). Strut-graft loading end limits of 225 N were reached with a mean 7.5° extension in the plated spines.

Conclusions.

Anterior multilevel cervical plating effectively increases stiffness and decreases local cervical motion after corpectomy. However, anterior cervical plating also reverses graft loads and excessively loads the graft in extension, which may promote pistoning and failure of multilevel constructs.

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