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Minimally invasive decompression for lumbar spinal canal stenosis in younger age patients could lead to higher stresses in the remaining neural arch -- a finite element investigation.

BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE: A young patient group with the symptoms of acquired spinal stenosis has been identified recently in the literature. The patients between 25-50 years of age were found to have signs of lumbar spinal stenosis because of degenerative spinal changes. Some of them were operated on using the same limited decompression approaches as the older patients. However, this group differs from the geriatric population due to the scarcity of remodeling degenerative signs at the spine. Therefore, the possible ligamentous laxity, facet joint degeneration or only the removal of some spinal structures could lead to the increased stresses in the remaining spinal arch and could have an unfavorable course of events after the procedure. A biomechanical study has been done using an experimentally validated finite element model (FEM) of the intact L3-S1 lumbar spine to elucidate the influence of the limited decompression on range of motion (ROM) and stress distribution on the neural arch in this patient group.

METHODS: We simulated unilateral laminotomy L4 and medial facetectomy L4-5, medial facetectomy L4-5 and lateral fenestration of L5 pars interarticularis, combined transarticular lateral and medial approach with partial facetectomy L4-5, "port-hole" decompression at the L4 level, and hemilaminectomy L4 with medial facetectomy L4-5. The ROM and maximum von Mises stresses were analyzed in flexion, extension, lateral bending, and axial rotation in response to a 10.6 Nm moment with 400 N axial compression. The data were compared with the intact spine and hemilaminectomy L4 with medial facetectomy L4-5 models.

RESULTS AND CONCLUSION: The investigation revealed almost the same ROM after simulation but a considerable increase in stresses at both the pars interarticularis and the inferior facet after limited decompressions, especially in extension and rotation to the contralateral side. Stresses at the contralateral L4 pedicle were highest after L4 hemilaminectomy and medial facetectomy L4-5. Due to the observed increases in stresses, the surgeon should be aware of the possibilities of stress-fractures in this patient group.

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