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Effect of Age and Loading Rate on Human Cervical Spine Injury Threshold

Pintar, Frank A., PhD; Yoganandan, N., PhD; Voo, Liming, PhD

Cervical Spine

Study Design. Statistical analysis of human cadaver cervical spine compression experiments.

Objectives. To quantify the cervical spine compressive injury threshold as a function of the person's age, gender, and external loading rate.

Summary of Background Data. Results of epidemiologic studies have indicated that most survivors of cervical spinal cord injury have spinal column fractures and dislocations that result from a compression or compression-flexion force vector. Cervical spinal column injury thresholds are dependent on many factors. Delineation of the injury thresholds according to age, gender, and loading rate is necessary to improve clinical assessments and prevention strategies.

Methods. Twenty-five human cadaver head-neck compression tests were included in the analysis. Two statistical models were used to quantify the effects of age, gender, and loading rate on the force required to induce failure in the cervical spine. A multiple linear regression model provided a direct equation that quantified the effects of the variables, and a proportional hazards model was used to quantify probability of injury with each factor.

Results. The regression model had a correlation coefficient of 0.87. There was an interactive effect between age and loading rate: Increasing age reduced the effect of loading rate and at approximately 82 years, loading rate had no effect. Men were consistently 600 N stronger than women. The 50% probability of failure for a 50-year-old man at a 4.5-m/sec loading rate was approximately 3.9 kN. Differences in probability curves followed the same trends as seen in the regression model.

Conclusions. The effects of age on cervical spine injury threshold are coupled with the rate of loading experienced through the external force vector that causes the trauma. Assessment of injury mechanisms and thresholds should be based on the person's age, gender, and loading rate to determine treatment and prevent injuries.

From the Department of Neurosurgery, Medical College of Wisconsin, and the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Supported in part by Public Health Service grant CDC-R49CCR-507370, DOT NHTSA DTNH22-93-Y-17028, and Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Research grant. The contents of this article are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not represent the official views of the funding agencies.

Acknowledgment date: May 14, 1997.

First revision date: January 26, 1998.

Acceptance date: March 20, 1998.

Device status category: 1.

Address reprint requests to: Frank A. Pintar, PhD; Professor and Director; Neuroscience Research Laboratories; V. A. Medical Center; 5000 West National Avenue; Milwaukee, WI 53295; E-mail:

© 1998 by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins