Stiffness Matters: Part II—The Effects of Plate Stiffness on Load-Sharing and the Progression of Fusion Following Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion In Vivo

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Study Design.Real time in vivo measurement of forces in the cervical spine of goats following anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF).Objective.To measure interbody forces in the cervical spine during the time course of fusion following ACDF with plates of different stiffnesses.Summary of Background Data.Following ACDF, the biomechanics of the arthrodesis is largely dictated by the plate. The properties of the plate prescribe the extent of load-sharing through the disc space versus the extent of stress-shielding. Load-sharing promotes interbody bone formation and stress-shielding can inhibit maturation of bone. However, these principles have never been validated in vivo. Measuring in vivo biomechanics of the cervical spine is critical to understanding the complex relationships between implant design, interbody loading, load-sharing, and the progression of fusion.Methods.Anterior cervical plates of distinct bending stiffnesses were placed surgically following ACDF in goats. A validated custom force-sensing interbody implant was placed in the disc space to measure load-sharing in the spine. Interbody loads were measured in vivo in real time during the course of fusion for each plate.Results.Interbody forces during flexion/extension were highly dynamic. In animals that received high stiffness plates, maximum forces were in extension whereas in animals that received lower stiffness plates, maximum forces were in flexion. As fusion progressed, interbody load magnitude decreased.Conclusion.The magnitude of interbody forces in the cervical spine is dynamic and correlates to activity and posture of the head and neck. The magnitude and consistency of forces in the interbody space correlates to plate stiffness with more compliant plates resulting in more consistent load-sharing. The magnitude of interbody forces decreases as fusion matures suggesting that smart interbody implants may be used as a diagnostic tool to indicate the progression of interbody fusion.Level of Evidence: N/A

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