Mechanism of facet load transmission as a hypothesis for low-back pain

Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 1984 Sep;9(6):557-65. doi: 10.1097/00007632-198409000-00005.


Low-back pain has a complex and multi-faceted etiology. The articular facets have been shown to be load-bearing structures and may be a site for low-back pain. The aim of this paper is to establish the mechanism for the transmission of axial load across a facet joint and to propose a facet-related hypothesis for low-back pain. The mechanism of load transmission was studied by two methods. Lumbar segments were instrumented with an intervertebral load cell (IVLC) to measure disc load so that facet load could be deduced. The applied load was moved 10 mm anteriorly and 12.5 mm posteriorly from the center of the vertebral body. The facets then were separated from the body and loaded axially to determine their stiffness in tension and compression and to observe the failure mode of the joint. It was shown optically that compressive loading of the isolated facet joints was equivalent to spinal extension and tensile loading to spinal flexion. Lastly, a finite element model of a lumbar motion segment was developed to simulate the transmission of facet load and to study the effects of disc degeneration on facet loads. Results of the study on six lumbar segments revealed that the normal facets carried 3-25%. If the facet joint was arthritic, the load could be as high as 47%. Experiments on isolated facet joints revealed that they behaved as a stiffening spring in compression and were weak in tension.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Back Pain / etiology*
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Joints / physiopathology
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / anatomy & histology
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Anatomic
  • Tensile Strength