Human intervertebral disc internal strain in compression: The effect of disc region, loading position, and degeneration

Grace D. O'Connell, Edward J. Vresilovic, Dawn M. Elliott

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

135 Scopus citations


The primary function of the disc is mechanical; therefore, degenerative changes in disc mechanics and the interactions between the annulus fibrosus (AF) and nucleus pulposus (NP) in nondegenerate and degenerate discs are important to functional evaluation. The disc experiences complex loading conditions, including mechanical interactions between the pressurized NP and the surrounding fiber-reinforced AF. Our objective was to noninvasively evaluate the internal deformations of nondegenerate and degenerate human discs under axial compression with flexion, neutral, and extension positions using magnetic resonance imaging and image correlation. The side of applied bending (e.g., anterior AF in flexion) had higher tensile radial and compressive axial strains, and the opposite side of bending exhibited tensile axial strains even though the disc was loaded under axial compression. Degenerated discs exhibited higher compressive axial and tensile radial strains, which suggest that load distribution through the disc subcomponents are altered with degeneration, likely due to the depressurized NP placing more of the applied load directly on the AF. The posterior AF exhibited higher compressive axial and higher tensile radial strains than the other AF regions, and the strains were not correlated with degeneration, suggesting this region undergoes high strains throughout life, which may predispose it to failure and tears. In addition to understanding internal disc mechanics, this study provides important new data into the changes in internal strain with degeneration, data for validation of finite element models, and provides a technique and baseline data for evaluating surgical treatments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)547-555
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Orthopaedic Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine


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