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Stress Reduction in Adjacent Level Discs via Dynamic Instrumentation: A Finite Element Analysis

Antonio E. Castellvi, MD,1 Hao Huang, PhD,2 Tov Vestgaarden, PhD,3 Sunil Saigal, PhD,3 Deborah H. Clabeaux, RN,1 David Pienkowski, PhD4

1The Florida Orthopaedic Institute, Tampa, FL 2The Exxonmobil Upstream Research Company, Houston, Texas 3The Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of South Florida, Tampa, FL 4The Center for Biomedical Engineering and the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, University of Kentucky, Lexington



Conventional (rigid) fusion instrumentation is believed to accelerate the degeneration of adjacent discs by increasing stresses caused by motion discontinuity. Fusion instrumentation that employs reduced rod stiffness and increased axial motion, or dynamic instrumentation, may partially alleviate this problem, but the effects of this instrumentation on the stresses in the adjacent disc are unknown. We used a finiteelement model to calculate and compare the stresses in the adjacent-level disc that are induced by rigid and dynamic posterior lumbar fusion instrumentation.


A 3-dimensional finite-element model of the lumbar spine was obtained that simulated flexion and extension. The L5–S1 segment of this model was fused, and the L4–L5 segment was fixed with rigid or dynamic instrumentation. The mechanical properties of the dynamic instrumentation were determined by laboratory testing and then used in the finite-element model. Peak stresses in the lumbar discs were calculated and compared.


The reduced-stiffness component of the dynamic instrumentation was associated with a 1% to 2% reduction in peak compressive stresses in the adjacent-level disc (at 45° flexion), and the increased axial motion component of this instrumentation reduced peak disc stress by 8% to 9%. Areas of disc tissue exposed to 80% of peak stresses of 6.17 MPa were 47% less for discs adjacent to dynamic instrumentation than for those adjacent to rigid instrumentation.


Reduced stiffness and increased axial motion of dynamic posterior lumbar fusion instrumentation designs result in an approximately 10% cumulative stress reduction for each flexion cycle. The effect of this stress reduction over many cycles may be substantial.

Clinical Relevance

The cumulative effect of this reduced amplitude and distribution of peak stresses in the adjacent disc may partially alleviate the problem of adjacent-level disc degeneration.

disc degeneration, spine fusion, posterior instrumentation, disc stresses, adjacent disc
Volume 1 Issue 2