The human cervical spine in tension: effects of frame and fixation compliance on structural responses.
ABSTRACT There is little data available on the responses of the human cervical spine to tensile loading. Such tests are mechanistically and technically challenging due to the variety of end conditions that need to be imposed and the difficulty of strong specimen fixation. As a result, spine specimens need to be tested using fairly complex, and potentially compliant, apparati in order to fully characterize the mechanical responses of each specimen. This, combined with the relatively high stiffness of human spine specimens, can result in errors in stiffness calculations. In this study, 18 specimen preparations were tested in tension. Tests were performed on whole cervical spines and on spine segments. On average, the linear stiffness of the segment preparations was 257 N/mm, and the stiffness of the whole cervical spine was 48 N/mm. The test frame was found to have a stiffness of 933 N/mm. Assembling a whole spine from a series combination of eight segments with a stiffness of 257 N/mm results in an estimated whole spine stiffness of 32.1 N/mm (32% error). The segment stiffnesses were corrected by assuming that the segment preparation stiffness is a series combination of the stiffnesses of the segment and the frame. This resulted in an average corrected segment stiffness of 356 N/mm. Taking the frame compliance into account, the whole spine stiffness is 51 N/mm. A series combination of eight segments using the corrected stiffnesses results in an estimated whole spine stiffness of 45.0 N/mm (12% error). We report both linear and nonlinear stiffness models for male spines and conclude that the compliance of the frame and the fixation must be quantified in all tension studies of spinal segments. Further, reported stiffness should be adjusted to account for frame and fixation compliance.