Contribution of disc degeneration to osteophyte formation in the cervical spine: a biomechanical investigation

J Orthop Res. 2001 Sep;19(5):977-84. doi: 10.1016/S0736-0266(01)00010-9.


Cervical spine disorders such as spondylotic radiculopathy and myelopathy are often related to osteophyte formation. Bone remodeling experimental-analytical studies have correlated biomechanical responses such as stress and strain energy density to the formation of bony outgrowth. Using these responses of the spinal components, the present study was conducted to investigate the basis for the occurrence of disc-related pathological conditions. An anatomically accurate and validated intact finite element model of the C4-C5-C6 cervical spine was used to simulate progressive disc degeneration at the C5-C6 level. Slight degeneration included an alteration of material properties of the nucleus pulposus representing the dehydration process. Moderate degeneration included an alteration of fiber content and material properties of the anulus fibrosus representing the disintegrated nature of the anulus in addition to dehydrated nucleus. Severe degeneration included decrease in the intervertebral disc height with dehydrated nucleus and disintegrated anulus. The intact and three degenerated models were exercised under compression, and the overall force-displacement response, local segmental stiffness, anulus fiber strain, disc bulge, anulus stress, load shared by the disc and facet joints, pressure in the disc, facet and uncovertebral joints, and strain energy density and stress in the vertebral cortex were determined. The overall stiffness (C4-C6) increased with the severity of degeneration. The segmental stiffness at the degenerated level (C5-C6) increased with the severity of degeneration. Intervertebral disc bulge and anulus stress and strain decreased at the degenerated level. The strain energy density and stress in vertebral cortex increased adjacent to the degenerated disc. Specifically, the anterior region of the cortex responded with a higher increase in these responses. The increased strain energy density and stress in the vertebral cortex over time may induce the remodeling process according to Wolff's law, leading to the formation of osteophytes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Cervical Vertebrae / pathology
  • Cervical Vertebrae / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Intervertebral Disc / pathology*
  • Models, Biological*
  • Spinal Osteophytosis / pathology
  • Spinal Osteophytosis / physiopathology*
  • Stress, Mechanical