The two main load bearing tissues of the intervertebral disc are the nucleus pulposus and the annulus fibrosus. Both tissues are composed of the same basic components, but differ in their organization and relative amounts. With degeneration, the clear distinction between the two tissues disappears. The changes in biochemical content lead to changes in mechanical behaviour of the intervertebral disc. The aim of the current study was to investigate if well-documented moderate degeneration at the biochemical and fibre structure level leads to instability of the lumbar spine. By taking into account biochemical and ultrastructural changes to the extracellular matrix of degenerating discs, a set of constitutive material parameters were determined that described the individual tissue behaviour. These tissue biomechanical models were then used to simulate dynamic behaviour of the degenerated spinal motion segment, which showed instability in axial rotation, while a stabilizing effect in the other two principle bending directions. When a shear load was applied to the degenerated spinal motion segment, no sign of instability was found. This study found that reported changes to the nucleus pulposus and annulus fibrosus matrix during moderate degeneration lead to a more stable spinal motion segment and that such biomechanical considerations should be incorporated into the general pathophysiological understanding of disc degeneration and how its progress could affect low back pain and its treatments thereof.
van Rijsbergen, M. M., Barthelemy, V. M. P., Vrancken, A. C. T., Crijns, S. P. M., Wilke, H. J., Wilson, W., ... Ito, K. (2017). Moderately degenerated lumbar motion segments: are they truly unstable? Biomechanics and Modeling in Mechanobiology, 16(2), 537–547. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10237-016-0835-9