Cortical bone trajectory for lumbar pedicle screws

Spine J. 2009 May;9(5):366-73. doi: 10.1016/j.spinee.2008.07.008. Epub 2008 Sep 14.


Background context: Achieving solid implant fixation to osteoporotic bone presents a clinical challenge. New techniques and devices are being designed to increase screw-bone purchase of pedicle screws in the lumbar spine via a novel cortical bone trajectory that may improve holding screw strength and minimize loosening. Preliminary clinical evidence suggests that this new trajectory provides screw interference that is equivalent to the more traditionally directed trajectory for lumbar pedicle screws. However, a biomechanical study has not been performed to substantiate the early clinical results.

Purpose: Evaluate the mechanical competence of lumbar pedicle screws using a more medial-to-lateral path (ie, "cortical bone trajectory") than the traditionally used path.

Study design: Human cadaveric biomechanical study.

Methods: Each vertebral level (L1-L5) was dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) scanned and had two pedicle screws inserted. On one side, the traditional medially directed trajectory was drilled and tapped. On the contralateral side, the newly proposed cortical bone trajectory was drilled and tapped. After qCT scanning, screws were inserted into their respective trajectories and pullout and toggle testing ensued. In uniaxial pullout, the pedicle screw was withdrawn vertically from the constrained bone until failure occurred. The contralateral side was tested in the same manner. In screw toggle testing, the vertebral body was rigidly constrained and a longitudinal rod was attached to each screw head. The rod was grasped using a hydraulic grip and a quasi-static, upward displacement was implemented until construct failure. The contralateral pedicle screw was tested in the same manner. Yield pullout (N) and stiffness (N/mm) as well as failure moment (N-m) were compared and bone mineral content and bone density data were correlated with the yield pullout force.

Results: New cortical trajectory screws demonstrated a 30% increase in uniaxial yield pullout load relative to the traditional pedicle screws (p=0.080), although mixed loading demonstrated equivalency between the two trajectories. No significant difference in construct stiffness was noted between the two screw trajectories in either biomechanical test or were differences in failure moments (p=0.354). Pedicle screw fixation did not appear to depend on bone quality (DXA) yet positive correlations were demonstrated between trajectory and bone density scans (qCT) and pullout force for both pedicle screws.

Conclusions: The current study demonstrated that the new cortical trajectory and screw design have equivalent pullout and toggle characteristics compared with the traditional trajectory pedicle screw, thus confirming preliminary clinical evidence. The 30% increase in failure load of the cortical trajectory screw in uniaxial pullout and its juxtaposition to higher quality bone justify its use in patients with poor trabecular bone quality.

MeSH terms

  • Absorptiometry, Photon
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Bone Screws*
  • Equipment Failure
  • Humans
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / surgery
  • Materials Testing*
  • Osteoporosis / surgery
  • Spinal Fusion / instrumentation*