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The Contribution of the Three Columns of the Spine to Rotational Stability: A Biomechanical Model

HAHER, THOMAS R., MD*; FELMY, WILLIAM, MD*; BARUCH, HOWARD, MD*; DEVLIN, VINCENT, MD*; WELIN, DANIEL, MD*; O'BRIEN, MICHAEL, MD*; AHMAD, JAMEEL, PhD; VALENZA, JOSEPH, ME; PARISH, SUSAN, BE

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A function of the spine as a structural column is its ability to resist torsion. The goal of this study was to evaluate the contribution of the columns of the spine to torsional rigidity. Ten human cadaver spines were harvested and frozen. The specimens, consisting of segments from T11 to S1, were subjected to torsional loads of up to 20 N-m. Rotation was recorded throughout the loading cycle. The columns of the spine were destroyed at the L2-3 interspace in a predetermined fashion and loading was repeated. The data were plotted as torsion versus rotation in degrees. The curves of each loading cycle were compared and the ratios of the intact and compromised specimens were calculated. The contribution of each column of the spine to torsional rigidity was determined. In an intact lumbar spine, the anulus was the most effective structure in resisting torsion. Experience gained in this study supports the following conclusion: Flexion–distraction injuries of the thoracolumbar and lumbar spine involving soft tissue destruction of the anterior column and anulus result in rotational instability.

*From SUNY-HSC, Brooklyn, New York

†From the Cooper Union School of Engineering, New York, New York

© Lippincott-Raven Publishers.