Mapping the Structural Properties of the Lumbosacral Vertebral Endplates

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Abstract

Study Design.

A biomechanical investigation using indentation tests in a human cadaveric model to seek variation in the structural properties across the lower lumbar and sacral endplates.

Objectives.

To determine 1) if there are regional differences in endplate strength and 2) whether any differences identified are affected by spinal level (lumbar spine vs. sacrum) or endplate (superior vs. inferior).

Summary of Background Data.

It has been postulated that some regions of the vertebral body may be stronger than others. Conclusive data, either supporting or disproving this theory, would be valuable for both spine surgeons and implant designers because one mode of failure of interbody implants is subsidence into one or both adjacent vertebrae.

Methods.

Indentation tests were performed at 27 standardized test sites in 62 bony endplates of intact human vertebrae (L3–S1) using a 3-mm-diameter, hemispherical indenter with a test rate of 0.2 mm/sec to a depth of 3 mm. The failure load and stiffness at each test site were determined using the load-displacement curves. Three-way analyses of variance were used to analyze the resulting data.

Results.

Both the failure load and stiffness varied significantly across the endplate surfaces (P < 0.0001), with posterolateral regions being stronger and stiffer than the central regions. Characteristic distributions were identified in the lumbar superior, lumbar inferior, and sacral endplates. The failure load distributions were found to differ in 1) the superior lumbar and sacral endplates (P = 0.0077), 2) the inferior lumbar and sacral endplates (P = 0.0014), and 3) the superior and inferior lumbar endplates (P < 0.0001). The sacral and inferior lumbar endplates were both found to be stronger than the superior lumbar endplates (sacrum, P = 0.054; inferior, P = 0.008) but were not themselves significantly different (P = 0.89).

Conclusions.

Highly significant regional strength and stiffness variations were identified in the lumbar and sacral endplates. The center of the bone, where implants are currently placed, is the weakest part of the lumbar endplates and is not the strongest region of the sacral endplate.

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