Optimal strategies for fixation in the osteoporotic lumbar spine remain a clinical issue. Classic transpedicular fixation in the osteoporotic spine is frequently plagued with construct instability, often due to inadequate cortical screw–bone purchase. A cortical bone trajectory maximizes bony purchase and has been reported to provide increased screw pullout strength. The aim of the current investigation was to evaluate the biomechanical efficacy of cortical spinal fixation as a surgical alternative to transpedicular fixation in the osteoporotic lumbar spine under physiological loading.
Eight fresh-frozen human spinopelvic specimens with low mean bone mineral densities (T score less than or equal to –2.5) underwent initial destabilization, consisting of laminectomy and bilateral facetectomies (L2–3 and L4–5), followed by pedicle or cortical reconstructions randomized between levels. The surgical constructs then underwent fatigue testing followed by tensile load to failure pullout testing to quantify screw pullout force.
When stratifying the pullout data with fixation technique and operative vertebral level, cortical screw fixation exhibited a marked increase in mean load at failure in the lower vertebral segments (p = 0.188, 625.6 ± 233.4 N vs 450.7 ± 204.3 N at L-4 and p = 0.219, 640.9 ± 207.4 N vs 519.3 ± 132.1 N at L-5) while transpedicular screw fixation demonstrated higher failure loads in the superior vertebral elements (p = 0.024, 783.0 ± 516.1 N vs 338.4 ± 168.2 N at L-2 and p = 0.220, 723.0 ± 492.9 N vs 469.8 ± 252.0 N at L-3). Although smaller in diameter and length, cortical fixation resulted in failures that were not significantly different from larger pedicle screws (p > 0.05, 449.4 ± 265.3 N and 541.2 ± 135.1 N vs 616.0 ± 384.5 N and 484.0 ± 137.1 N, respectively).
Cortical screw fixation exhibits a marked increase in mean load at failure in the lower vertebral segments and may offer a viable alternative to traditional pedicle screw fixation, particularly for stabilization of lower lumbar vertebral elements with definitive osteoporosis.