Effect of supplemental translaminar facet screw fixation on the stability of stand-alone anterior lumbar interbody fusion cages under physiologic compressive preloads

Frank M Phillips, Ben Cunningham, Gerard Carandang, Alexander J Ghanayem, Leonard Voronov, Robert M Havey, Avinash G Patwardhan
Spine 2004 August 15, 29 (16): 1731-6

STUDY DESIGN: A biomechanical study of lumbar threaded interbody cage construct under varying compressive preloads of similar magnitudes to those experienced in vivo during daily activities.

OBJECTIVES: To test the hypothesis that supplemental translaminar facet screws would enhance the stability (ability to reduce segmental angular motion) of threaded interbody cages in flexion-extension during activities in which the spine is subjected to low compressive preloads, and therefore the stand-alone interbody cage construct is least stable.

SUMMARY OF BACKGROUND DATA: Controversy exists over whether threaded anteriorly placed interbody cages can be routinely used as "stand-alone" devices or whether they require supplemental posterior stabilization to achieve successful fusion. Biomechanical studies suggest that under conditions of low preloads, the motion segment treated with stand-alone cages might be less stable, particularly in extension. METHODS.: Eight human lumbar spine specimens (from L1 to sacrum) were tested intact, after insertion of 2 threaded cylindrical cages (BAK) at L5-S1 and after supplemental translaminar facet screw fixation. They were subjected to flexion and extension moments under progressively increasing magnitude of externally applied compressive follower preload from 0 to 1200 N. The range of angular motion in flexion-extension at L5-S1 was analyzed to assess the effect of translaminar facet screws on the stability of the cage construct for different compressive preloads.

RESULTS: In flexion, over 0 to 400 N preload, the supplemental translaminar facet screw fixation reduced the L5-S1 angular motion relative to intact by 71% to 74% as compared to 40% to 44% for the cages alone. This difference was statistically significant (P < 0.05). In extension at 0 N preload, the cages allowed more angular motion than the intact segment, whereas with translaminar facet screw fixation, the motion was reduced to the level of the intact segment. At 400 N preload, supplemental TLFS fixation significantly increased the stability of the cages, reducing the extension angular motion by 60% of intact (P = 0.04). Supplemental translaminar facet screw fixation did not significantly increase the stability provided by the cages in flexion or extension at the 1200 N preload magnitude.

CONCLUSIONS: In vivo during activities of daily living, interbody cage constructs are subject to varying compressive preloads due to external loads generated by paraspinal musculature, and our results suggest that the stability created by the cage (reduction in segmental angular motion) is not constant. The cage construct is likely to be least stable in extension during activities that impart low compressive preloads to the lumbar spine. Supplemental translaminar facet screw fixation will enhance stability of the motion segment treated with threaded cages, particularly during conditions of low compressive preloads, the very condition in which the cage alone is least effective in providing stability.

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