Spondylolysis is a common condition among the general population and a major cause of back pain in young athletes. This condition can be difficult to detect with plain radiography and has been reported to lead to contralateral pars fracture or pedicle fracture in the terminal stages. Interestingly, some patients with late-stage spondylolysis are observed to have radiographic or CT evidence of a sclerotic pedicle on the side contralateral to the spondylolysis. Although computational studies have shown stress elevation in the contralateral pedicle after a pars fracture, it is not known if these changes would cause sclerotic changes in the contralateral pedicle. The objective of this study was to investigate the adaptive remodeling process at the pedicle due to a contralateral spondylolysis using finite element analysis.
A multiscale finite element model of a vertebra was obtained by combining a continuum model of the posterior elements with a voxel-based pedicle section. Extension loading conditions were applied with or without a fracture at the contralateral pars to analyze the stresses in the contralateral pedicle. A remodeling algorithm was used to simulate and assess density changes in the contralateral pedicle.
The remodeling algorithm demonstrated an increase in bone formation around the perimeter of the contralateral pedicle with some localized loss of mass in the region of cancellous bone.
The authors' results indicated that a pars fracture results in sclerotic changes in the contralateral pedicle. Such a remodeling process could increase overall bone mass. However, focal bone loss in the region of the cancellous bone of the pedicle might predispose the pedicle to microfractures. This phenomenon explains, at least in part, the origin of pedicle stress fractures in the sclerotic contralateral pedicles of patients with unilateral spondylolysis.