Kinematics of the Cervical Spine After Unilateral Facet Fracture: An In Vitro Cadaver Study

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Study Design.

Biomechanical study utilizing human cadaveric cervical spines.


To quantitatively assess the effects on intervertebral motion of isolated unilateral cervical facet fracture, and after disruption of the intervertebral disc at the same level.

Summary of Background Data.

Clinical evidence has indirectly suggested that cervical facet fractures involving 40% of the height of the lateral mass can cause instability of the involved segment. No study to date has demonstrated the kinematic effects of such an injury in a cadaveric model of the cervical spine.


Nine six-segment cervical spines were defrosted and fixated to a spine motion simulator capable to apply unconstrained bending moments in the three anatomical planes. The spines were subjected to a maximum torque of 2 N · m in flexion, extension, left and right lateral bending, and of 4 N · m in left and right axial rotation. Each spine was tested in the intact configuration (INTACT), and following two increasing degrees of injury at C4-C5: fracture of the facet (CF1), and CF1 with disruption of the intervertebral disc at the same level (CF2). Intervertebral kinematics was tracked via clusters of active markers fixated on each vertebra. Differences in kinematics between INTACT and the two injured configurations were assessed via one-way Analysis of Variance (P < 0.05).


No significant differences were detected between INTACT and CF1 across all kinematic parameters (P > 0.05) at C4-C5. CF2, however, resulted in significant increase of flexion, left axial rotation, and left lateral bending with respect to INTACT (flexion at C4-C5: INTACT = 8.7° ± 3.5°; CF2 = 14.3 ± 5.7; P < 0.05).


Our findings suggest that superior articular facet fractures alone involving 40% of the lateral mass may not necessarily result in intervertebral instability under physiologic loading conditions. The addition of partial injury to the intervertebral disc, however, resulted in statistically significant increase in angular displacement.


Level of Evidence: N /A

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