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The distribution of surface strain in the cadaveric lumbar spine

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The fourth lumbar vertebrae and L4-5 discs from six cadaveric lumbar spines were subjected to detailed strain gauge analysis under conditions of controlled loading. With central compression loads, maximal compressive strain was found to occur near the bases of the pedicles and on both superficial and deep surfaces of the pars interarticularis, which emphasises the importance of the posterior elements of lumbar vertebrae in transmitting load. Radial bulge and tangential strain of the disc wall were maximal at the posterolateral surface, in agreement with the fact that disc degeneration and prolapse commonly occur there. Under posterior offset loads simulating extension, both compressive and tensile strains were found to be increased on both surfaces of the pars interarticularis, which suggests that hyperextension may lead to stress fractures and spondylolisthesis. Posterior offset loads also increased the radial bulge of the posterior disc wall and tangential strain at the anterior surface of the disc. Anterior offset loads simulating flexion increased the radial bulge of the anterior disc wall and tangential strain at the posterior surface of the disc. These findings are compatible with movement of the nucleus pulposus within the disc during flexion and extension. This hypothesis was supported by post-mortem discography.

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