Effects of Polyaxial Pedicle Screws on Lumbar Construct Rigidity

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Pedicle screw constructs have been shown to increase fusion rates in the lumbar spine. Manufacturers have created pedicle screws with one or two degrees of freedom built into the screw head to allow for easier incorporation of the interlocking rod, but the effects of these screws on construct stiffness has not been tested. The purpose of this study is to compare and contrast the stiffness of lumbar pedicle screw constructs with and without the use of polyaxial pedicle screws. Nontapered, self-taping pedicle screws (6.0-mm diameter × 30-mm length, titanium) were used in the fixation of porcine spines from L3–L5. Group 1 (n = 5) contained six standard pedicle screws from one manufacturer. Group 2 (n = 5) contained six standard pedicle screws from a second manufacturer. Group 3 (n = 5) contained four standard pedicle screws placed at L3 and L5, as well as two polyaxial screws placed at L4. Group 4 (n = 5) contained six polyaxial pedicle screws. A rotational variable differential transformer was used to record angular displacement between vertebrae in the construct as it is loaded in flexion, extension, right bend, left bend, clockwise torque, and counterclockwise torque. Stiffness curves were linear throughout the range of applied force. The average r2 value for the generated stiffness graphs was 0.94 (SD = 0.06). No construct failure occurred during any of the testing. There were no significant differences (p < 0.05, two-way analysis of variance) in moment versus angle noted in any of the four groups tested. For torque tests, the all-polyaxial screw constructs showed significantly increased stiffness compared with the other groups. The current study has shown that the incorporation of polyaxial screws in pedicle screw constructs did not significantly decrease the construct stiffness. There is a suggestion that the use of all polyaxial screws may increase the resistance to torque by allowing better purchase of intervertebral rods.

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