Effect of the intervertebral disc on vertebral bone strength prediction: a finite-element study

Spine J. 2020 Apr;20(4):665-671. doi: 10.1016/j.spinee.2019.11.015. Epub 2019 Dec 10.


Background context: Osteoporotic vertebral fractures (OVFs) are a prevalent skeletal condition in the elderly but the mechanism behind these fractures remain unclear due to the complex biomechanical interplay between spinal segments such as the vertebra and intervertebral discs (IVDs).

Purpose: To investigate the biomechanical influence of IVDs by (1) comparing finite element (FE)-predicted failure load with experimentally measured failure load of functional spinal units (FSUs) and (2) comparing this correlation with those of FE-predicted failure load and bone mineral density (BMD) of the single central vertebra with experimentally measured failure load.

Study design: A computational biomechanical analysis.

Patient sample: Ten thoracic FSUs consisting of a central vertebra, the adjacent IVDs, and the upper and lower halves of the adjacent vertebrae were harvested from formalin-fixed human donors (4 males, 6 females; mean age of 82±9 years).

Outcome measures: The outcome measures included the prediction of vertebral strength and determination of BMD in FSUs and the single central vertebra and the correlation of both measures with experimentally measured vertebral strength of the FSUs.

Methods: The FSUs underwent clinical multidetector computed tomography (MDCT) (spatial resolution: 250×250×600 μm3). BMD was determined for the FSUs from the MDCT images of the central vertebrae. FE-predicted failure load was calculated in the single central vertebra of the FSUs alone and the entire FSUs. Experimentally measured failure load of the FSUs was determined in a uniaxial biomechanical test.

Results: BMD of the central vertebrae correlated significantly with experimentally measured failure load (R2=0.66, p<.02), whereas FE-predicted failure load of the central vertebra showed no significant correlation with experimentally measured failure load (p=.07). However, FE-predicted failure load of FSUs best predicted experimentally measured failure load of FSUs (R2=0.93, p<.0001).

Conclusions: This study demonstrated that routine clinical MDCT images can be an accurate and feasible tool for prediction of OVFs using patient-specific FE analysis of FSU models.

Clinical significance: Improved management of OVFs is essential amidst current clinical challenges. Implementation of a vertebral strength assessment tool could result in more accurate prediction of osteoporotic fracture risk and aid clinicians with better targeted early treatment strategies.

Keywords: Bone mineral density; Bone strength; Finite element modeling; Osteoporosis; Spine.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't