Ultrasonic Structural Health Monitoring to Assess the Integrity of Spinal Growing Rods In Vitro

Spine Deform. 2016 Jan;4(1):65-69. doi: 10.1016/j.jspd.2015.06.008. Epub 2015 Dec 23.


Background: Rod fracture is a common complication of growing rods and can result in loss of correction, patient discomfort, and unplanned revision surgery. The ability to quantitate rod integrity at each lengthening would be advantageous to avoid this complication. We investigate the feasibility of applying structural health monitoring to evaluate the integrity of growing rods in vitro.

Methods: Single-rod titanium 4.5-mm growing rod constructs (n = 9), one screw proximally and one distally connected by in-line connectors, were assembled with pedicle screws fixed in polyethylene blocks. Proximal and distal ends were loaded and constructs subjected to cyclic axial compression (0-100 N at 1 Hz), with incrementally increasing maximum compressive loads of 10 N every 9k cycles until failure. Four piezoceramic transducers (PZTs) were mounted along the length the constructs to interrogate the integrity of the rods with an ultrasonic, guided lamb wave approach. Every 9k cycles, an 80 V excitatory voltage was applied to a PZT to generate high-frequency vibrations, which, after propagating through the construct, was detected by the remaining PZTs. Amplitude differences between pre- and postload waveform signals were calculated until rod failure.

Results: Average construct lifetime was 88,991 ± 13,398 cycles. All constructs failed due to rod fracture within 21 mm (mean = 15 ± 4.5 mm) of a screw or connector. Amplitude differences between pre- and postload increased in a stepwise fashion as constructs were cycled. Compared to baseline, we found a 1.8 ± 0.6-fold increase in amplitude 18k cycles before failure, a 2.2 ± 1.0-fold increase in amplitude 9k cycles before failure, and a 2.75 ± 1.5-fold increase in amplitude immediately before rod fracture.

Conclusion: We describe a potential method for assessing the structural integrity of growing rods using ultrasonic structural health monitoring. These preliminary data demonstrate the ability of periodic rod assessment to detect structural changes in cycled growing rods, which appear to correspond to subclinical rod fatigue before rod fracture.

Keywords: Complications; Growing rods; Rod fracture; Structural monitoring.

MeSH terms

  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Lumbar Vertebrae
  • Materials Testing
  • Pedicle Screws*
  • Scoliosis / diagnostic imaging*
  • Spinal Fusion*
  • Thoracic Vertebrae
  • Titanium
  • Ultrasonics*


  • Titanium