Nucleotomy Alters Internal Strain Distribution of the Human Lumbar Intervertebral Disc

Nucleotomy is a surgical procedure following herniation and also simulates the reduced nucleus pulpousus (NP) pressure that occurs with disc degeneration. Internal disc strains are an important factor in disc function, yet it is unclear how internal strains are affected by nucleotomy. Grade II L3-L4 human cadaveric discs (n=6) were analyzed intact and after a partial nucleotomy that removed 30-50% of the NP through a left posterolateral incision (incision) while the contralateral side remained intact (uninjured). Two cycles of stress-relaxation testing were performed for reference (50N) and loaded (0.70MPa) configurations. After each 8hour equilibration period, the reference and loaded discs were imaged separately in a 7T MRI scanner (0.3mm isotropic resolution). The reference and loaded images were registered to calculate internal strain within the annulus fibrosus (AF) lamellae and discs were averaged to create anatomical templates. Circumferential, radial, and axial strains for each disc were transformed to the average templates, effectively normalizing the strains. Five circumferential regions were defined within the mid-third of the templates. Nucleotomy altered disc strains on both the incision and uninjured sides from the intact state. Strain fields were inhomogeneous through the five regions. Mean circumferential strain was unaffected by nucleotomy on the uninjured side, but decreased with incision, showing hoop strains through the AF were disrupted. Mean compressive axial strains were higher after nucleotomy, effectively reducing AF stiffness, and mean radial strains were unaltered after partial nucleotomy. These findings are important to address etiology and progression of degeneration, and to develop and evaluate therapeutic interventions.
Listed In: Biomechanical Engineering, Biomechanics, Orthopedic Research