An experiment was performed to study the limits of the ability of screws designed to center themselves in the pedicle during insertion, and to study whether straight-ahead versus inward screw insertion trajectories differ in their resistance to pullout.
Forty-nine human cadaveric lumbar vertebrae were studied. Pedicle screws were inserted in trajectories starting 0°, 10°, 20°, or 30° from the optimal trajectory, either medially or laterally misdirected. The surgeon then inserted the screw with forward thrust but without resisting the screw's tendency to reorient its own trajectory during insertion. On the opposite pedicle, a control screw was inserted with the more standard inward-angled anatomical trajectory and insertion point. Cortical wall violation during insertion was recorded. Screws were then pulled out at a constant displacement rate while ultimate strength was recorded.
Lateral misdirection as small as 10° was likely to lead to cortical wall violation (3 of 7 violations). Conversely, medial misdirection usually resulted in safe screw insertion (1 of 21 violations for 10°, 20°, or 30° medial misdirection). The resistance to pullout of screws inserted in a straight-ahead trajectory did not differ significantly from that of screws inserted along an inward trajectory (p = 0.68).
Self-tapping, self-drilling pedicle screws can redirect themselves to a much greater extent during medial than during lateral misdirection. The cortical wall is more likely to be violated laterally than medially. The strength of straight-ahead and inward trajectories was equivalent.
Abbreviations used in this paper: ANOVA = analysis of variance; BMD = bone mineral density; PMMA = polymethylmethacrylate; VB = vertebral body.