Study design: Samples of human lumbar (L3-L4) anulus fibrosus from four different anatomic sites (anterior outer, posterolateral inner), ranging from normal to severely degenerate, were studied in uniaxial tension and measured for water content.
Objectives: To evaluate the effects of aging and degeneration on the tensile properties and hydration of the anulus fibrosus in a site-specific manner. The relationship between hydration and parameters of the tensile behavior were investigated.
Summary of background data: Degeneration and aging have been shown to be related to dramatic changes in the composition and structure of the anulus fibrosus. The associated changes in the tensile, compressive, and shear properties of the anulus fibrosus have not been documented. Numerical studies using finite element models have attempted to simulate the degenerative process by incorporating estimated mechanical properties meant to represent the degenerate anulus fibrosus. Their results present findings that suggest that altered material properties of the anulus fibrosus affect the mechanics of the entire intervertebral disc.
Methods: Samples of human lumbar anulus fibrosus were classified by grade of degeneration based on a morphologic grading scheme. Multiple layer anulus specimens from four sites in the disc were tested in uniaxial tension under quasistatic conditions in a physiologic saline bath. The tensile modules, Poisson's ratio, failure stress and strain, the strain energy density to failure, and the corresponding hydration were determined for each sample.
Results: The Poisson's ratio, failure stress, and strain energy density of the anulus fibrosus were found to be affected significantly by degeneration, with some evidence of a sensitivity of the tensile modulus to grade of degeneration. All material properties were found to exhibit a significant and greater dependence on site within the disc than on degenerative grade. Weak correlations between aging and the Poisson's ratio and strain energy density were observed. Water content of anulus fibrosus tissue was not affected by degeneration or aging, although correlations with tensile properties were observed.
Conclusions: The dramatic changes in morphology, composition, and structure that occur in anulus fibrosus with aging and degeneration are accompanied by specific variations in the tensile properties, which were generally small in magnitude. Position of the anulus fibrosus within the intervertebral disc, particularly in the radial direction, appeared to be the most important variable affecting anulus fibrosus tensile properties. This dependence on position did not change with either aging or degeneration. Results from the present study may be useful in future finite element models to assess how altered material properties of the anulus fibrosus during degeneration and aging may affect the mechanics of the entire intervertebral disc.