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Sean M. Finley, J. Harley Astin, Evan Joyce, Andrew T. Dailey, Douglas L. Brockmeyer, and Benjamin J. Ellis

OBJECTIVE

The underlying biomechanical differences between the pediatric and adult cervical spine are incompletely understood. Computational spine modeling can address that knowledge gap. Using a computational method known as finite element modeling, the authors describe the creation and evaluation of a complete pediatric cervical spine model.

METHODS

Using a thin-slice CT scan of the cervical spine from a 5-year-old boy, a 3D model was created for finite element analysis. The material properties and boundary and loading conditions were created and model analysis performed using open-source software. Because the precise material properties of the pediatric cervical spine are not known, a published parametric approach of scaling adult properties by 50%, 25%, and 10% was used. Each scaled finite element model (FEM) underwent two types of simulations for pediatric cadaver testing (axial tension and cardinal ranges of motion [ROMs]) to assess axial stiffness, ROM, and facet joint force (FJF). The authors evaluated the axial stiffness and flexion-extension ROM predicted by the model using previously published experimental measurements obtained from pediatric cadaveric tissues.

RESULTS

In the axial tension simulation, the model with 50% adult ligamentous and annulus material properties predicted an axial stiffness of 49 N/mm, which corresponded with previously published data from similarly aged cadavers (46.1 ± 9.6 N/mm). In the flexion-extension simulation, the same 50% model predicted an ROM that was within the range of the similarly aged cohort of cadavers. The subaxial FJFs predicted by the model in extension, lateral bending, and axial rotation were in the range of 1–4 N and, as expected, tended to increase as the ligament and disc material properties decreased.

CONCLUSIONS

A pediatric cervical spine FEM was created that accurately predicts axial tension and flexion-extension ROM when ligamentous and annulus material properties are reduced to 50% of published adult properties. This model shows promise for use in surgical simulation procedures and as a normal comparison for disease-specific FEMs.