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British Orthopaedic Research Society (BORS)


The annulus fibrosus (AF) of the intervertebral disc (IVD) has a unique, complex structure. If engineered tissues for the IVD are to be successfully developed, it is essential that the constituent level mechanics of the tissues in their natural form are fully understood (Nerurkar, J. Biomech. 2010).

Published finite element (FE) models of the IVD do not represent lamellae behaviour and are validated using bulk mechanics of the intervertebral joint. This study aims to develop models of the IVD that include representation of the lamellae structure of the AF and the behaviour of this tissue within the disc.


Three FE models of a vertebra-disc-vertebra section were developed considering the following scenarios of the AF:

  1. Homogenous AF.

  2. Concentric rings representing AF's lamellae structure with frictionless contact between rings.

  3. Concentric rings with ‘interface’ elements representing the interlamellar space; properties were derived through calibration of a separate model of an AF tissue sample with histological studies of the AF (Gregory, J. Biomechs. 2009).

Displacements, stiffness and disc bulge were compared with the literature.


The properties derived for the interface elements were stiffer than those for the AF tissue. this is in agreement with in vitro studies that have examined the mechanisms by which the lamellae fail prior to the interlamellar interaction (Veres, Spine, 2010).

The macro-scale performance of the disc was sensitive to how the interlamellar interactions were modelled. Disc stiffness reduced by 7.1% between the homogenous and frictionless models. Use of the interface model improved the agreement with the in vitro performance of the disc: 5.8% error was recorded for disc stiffness and 2.1% error for disc bulge.

The mechanics of the lamellae within the AF changed significantly between the frictionless and interface models. The relative displacement of adjacent lamellae was reduced by 15% between the frictionless and interface models.

This study shows that the representation of the lamina structure of the AF affects the mechanics of the whole disc. Discrepancies in the modelling of interlamellar mechanics could have a significant effect on the interpretation of several important aspects of the biomechanics of the IVD.