An experimental and finite element investigation of the biomechanics of vertebral compression fractures

McDonald, Katrina Anne (2009) An experimental and finite element investigation of the biomechanics of vertebral compression fractures. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


Osteoporosis is a disease characterized by low bone mass and micro-architectural deterioration of bone tissue, with a consequent increase in bone fragility and susceptibility to fracture. Osteoporosis affects over 200 million people worldwide, with an estimated 1.5 million fractures annually in the United States alone, and with attendant costs exceeding $10 billion dollars per annum. Osteoporosis reduces bone density through a series of structural changes to the honeycomb-like trabecular bone structure (micro-structure). The reduced bone density, coupled with the microstructural changes, results in significant loss of bone strength and increased fracture risk. Vertebral compression fractures are the most common type of osteoporotic fracture and are associated with pain, increased thoracic curvature, reduced mobility, and difficulty with self care. Surgical interventions, such as kyphoplasty or vertebroplasty, are used to treat osteoporotic vertebral fractures by restoring vertebral stability and alleviating pain. These minimally invasive procedures involve injecting bone cement into the fractured vertebrae. The techniques are still relatively new and while initial results are promising, with the procedures relieving pain in 70-95% of cases, medium-term investigations are now indicating an increased risk of adjacent level fracture following the procedure. With the aging population, understanding and treatment of osteoporosis is an increasingly important public health issue in developed Western countries. The aim of this study was to investigate the biomechanics of spinal osteoporosis and osteoporotic vertebral compression fractures by developing multi-scale computational, Finite Element (FE) models of both healthy and osteoporotic vertebral bodies. The multi-scale approach included the overall vertebral body anatomy, as well as a detailed representation of the internal trabecular microstructure. This novel, multi-scale approach overcame limitations of previous investigations by allowing simultaneous investigation of the mechanics of the trabecular micro-structure as well as overall vertebral body mechanics. The models were used to simulate the progression of osteoporosis, the effect of different loading conditions on vertebral strength and stiffness, and the effects of vertebroplasty on vertebral and trabecular mechanics. The model development process began with the development of an individual trabecular strut model using 3D beam elements, which was used as the building block for lattice-type, structural trabecular bone models, which were in turn incorporated into the vertebral body models. At each stage of model development, model predictions were compared to analytical solutions and in-vitro data from existing literature. The incremental process provided confidence in the predictions of each model before incorporation into the overall vertebral body model. The trabecular bone model, vertebral body model and vertebroplasty models were validated against in-vitro data from a series of compression tests performed using human cadaveric vertebral bodies. Firstly, trabecular bone samples were acquired and morphological parameters for each sample were measured using high resolution micro-computed tomography (CT). Apparent mechanical properties for each sample were then determined using uni-axial compression tests. Bone tissue properties were inversely determined using voxel-based FE models based on the micro-CT data. Specimen specific trabecular bone models were developed and the predicted apparent stiffness and strength were compared to the experimentally measured apparent stiffness and strength of the corresponding specimen. Following the trabecular specimen tests, a series of 12 whole cadaveric vertebrae were then divided into treated and non-treated groups and vertebroplasty performed on the specimens of the treated group. The vertebrae in both groups underwent clinical-CT scanning and destructive uniaxial compression testing. Specimen specific FE vertebral body models were developed and the predicted mechanical response compared to the experimentally measured responses. The validation process demonstrated that the multi-scale FE models comprising a lattice network of beam elements were able to accurately capture the failure mechanics of trabecular bone; and a trabecular core represented with beam elements enclosed in a layer of shell elements to represent the cortical shell was able to adequately represent the failure mechanics of intact vertebral bodies with varying degrees of osteoporosis. Following model development and validation, the models were used to investigate the effects of progressive osteoporosis on vertebral body mechanics and trabecular bone mechanics. These simulations showed that overall failure of the osteoporotic vertebral body is initiated by failure of the trabecular core, and the failure mechanism of the trabeculae varies with the progression of osteoporosis; from tissue yield in healthy trabecular bone, to failure due to instability (buckling) in osteoporotic bone with its thinner trabecular struts. The mechanical response of the vertebral body under load is highly dependent on the ability of the endplates to deform to transmit the load to the underlying trabecular bone. The ability of the endplate to evenly transfer the load through the core diminishes with osteoporosis. Investigation into the effect of different loading conditions on the vertebral body found that, because the trabecular bone structural changes which occur in osteoporosis result in a structure that is highly aligned with the loading direction, the vertebral body is consequently less able to withstand non-uniform loading states such as occurs in forward flexion. Changes in vertebral body loading due to disc degeneration were simulated, but proved to have little effect on osteoporotic vertebra mechanics. Conversely, differences in vertebral body loading between simulated invivo (uniform endplate pressure) and in-vitro conditions (where the vertebral endplates are rigidly cemented) had a dramatic effect on the predicted vertebral mechanics. This investigation suggested that in-vitro loading using bone cement potting of both endplates has major limitations in its ability to represent vertebral body mechanics in-vivo. And lastly, FE investigation into the biomechanical effect of vertebroplasty was performed. The results of this investigation demonstrated that the effect of vertebroplasty on overall vertebra mechanics is strongly governed by the cement distribution achieved within the trabecular core. In agreement with a recent study, the models predicted that vertebroplasty cement distributions which do not form one continuous mass which contacts both endplates have little effect on vertebral body stiffness or strength. In summary, this work presents the development of a novel, multi-scale Finite Element model of the osteoporotic vertebral body, which provides a powerful new tool for investigating the mechanics of osteoporotic vertebral compression fractures at the trabecular bone micro-structural level, and at the vertebral body level.

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ID Code: 30415
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Adam, Clayton & Little, Judith
Additional Information: Recipient of 2009 Outstanding Thesies Award
Keywords: vertebra, trabecular, biomechanics, finite element analysis, osteoporosis, vertebroplasty, vertebral compression fractures, vertebra mechanics, trabecular bone, trabecular micro-structure, micro-computed tomography, lattice models, cellular solids, ODTA
Divisions: Past > QUT Faculties & Divisions > Faculty of Built Environment and Engineering
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 12 Feb 2010 04:22
Last Modified: 18 Jun 2013 01:37

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