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Hassan A. Serhan, Gus Varnavas, Andrew P. Dooris, Avinash Patwardhan and Michael Tzermiadianos

✓The clinical success of lumbar spinal fusion varies considerably, depending on techniques and indications. Although spinal fusion generally helps to eliminate certain types of pain, it may also decrease function by limiting patient mobility. Furthermore, spinal fusion may increase stresses on adjacent nonfused motion segments, accelerating the natural degeneration process at adjacent discs. Additionally, pseudarthrosis, that is, incomplete or ineffective fusion, may result in an absence of pain relief. Finally, the recuperation time after a fusion procedure can be lengthy.

The era of disc replacement is in its third decade, and this procedure has demonstrated promise in relieving back pain through preservation of motion. Total joint replacement with facet arthroplasty of the lumbar spine is a new concept in the field of spinal surgery. The devices used are intended to replace either the entire functional spinal unit (FSU) or just the facets. These devices provide dynamic stabilization for the functional spinal segment as an adjunct to disc replacement or laminectomy and facetectomy performed for neural decompression. The major role of facet replacement is to augment the instabilities created by the surgical decompression or to address chronic instability. Additionally, facet joint replacement devices can be used to replace the painful facet joints, restore stability, and/or to salvage a failed disc or nucleus prosthesis without losing motion.

In this paper the authors review and discuss the role of the lumbar facet joints as part of the three-joint complex and discuss their role in intersegmental motion load transfer and multidirectional flexibility in a lumbar FSU.

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Odysseas Paxinos, Parmenion P. Tsitsopoulos, Michael R. Zindrick, Leonard I. Voronov, Mark A. Lorenz, Robert M. Havey and Avinash G. Patwardhan

Object

There is limited data on the pullout strength of spinal fixation devices in the thoracic spine among individuals with different bone quality. An in vitro biomechanical study on the thoracic spine was performed to compare the pullout strength and the mechanism of failure of 4 posterior fixation thoracic constructs in relation to bone mineral density (BMD).

Methods

A total of 80 vertebrae from 11 fresh-frozen thoracic spines (T2–12) were used. Based on the results from peripheral quantitative CT, specimens were divided into 2 groups (normal and osteopenic) according to their BMD. They were then randomly assigned to 1 of 4 different instrumentation systems (sublaminar wires, pedicle screws, lamina claw hooks, or pedicle screws with wires). The construct was completed with 2 titanium rods and 2 transverse connectors, creating a stable frame. The pullout force to failure perpendicular to the rods as well as the pattern of fixation failure was recorded.

Results

Mean pullout force in the osteopenic Group A (36 vertebrae) was 473.2 ± 179.2 N and in the normal BMD Group B (44 vertebrae) was 1414.5 ± 554.8 N. In Group A, no significant difference in pullout strength was encountered among the different implants (p = 0.96). In Group B, the hook system failed because of dislocation with significantly less force than the other 3 constructs (931.9 ± 345.1 N vs an average of 1538.6 ± 532.7 N; p = 0.02). In the osteopenic group, larger screws demonstrated greater resistance to pullout (p = 0.011). The most common failure mechanism in both groups was through pedicle base fracture.

Conclusions

Bone quality is an important factor that influences stability of posterior thoracic implants. Fixation strength in the osteopenic group was one-fourth of the value measured in vertebrae with good bone quality, irrespective of the instrumentation used. However, in normal bone quality vertebrae, the lamina hook claw system dislocated with significantly less force when compared with other spinal implants. Further studies are needed to investigate the impact of different transpedicular screw designs on the pullout strength in normal and osteopenic thoracic spines.