Strain distribution in the lumbar vertebrae under different loading configurations

Luca Cristofolini, Nicola Brandolini, Valentina Danesi, Mateusz M. Juszczyk, Paolo Erani, Marco Viceconti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background context The stress/strain distribution in the human vertebrae has seldom been measured, and only for a limited number of loading scenarios, at few locations on the bone surface. Purpose This in vitro study aimed at measuring how strain varies on the surface of the lumbar vertebral body and how such strain pattern depends on the loading conditions. Methods Eight cadaveric specimens were instrumented with eight triaxial strain gauges each to measure the magnitude and direction of principal strains in the vertebral body. Each vertebra was tested in a three adjacent vertebrae segment fashion. The loading configurations included a compressive force aligned with the vertebral body but also tilted (15) in each direction in the frontal and sagittal planes, a traction force, and torsion (both directions). Each loading configuration was tested six times on each specimen. Results The strain magnitude varied significantly between strain measurement locations. The strain distribution varied significantly when different loading conditions were applied (compression vs. torsion vs. traction). The strain distribution when the compressive force was tilted by 15 was also significantly different from the axial compression. Strains were minimal when the compressive force was applied coaxial with the vertebral body, compared with all other loading configurations. Also, strain was significantly more uniform for the axial compression, compared with all other loading configurations. Principal strains were aligned within 19 to the axis of the vertebral body for axial-compression and axial-traction. Conversely, when the applied force was tilted by 15, the direction of principal strain varied by a much larger angle (15 to 28). Conclusions This is the first time, to our knowledge, that the strain distribution in the vertebral body is measured for such a variety of loading configurations and a large number of strain sensors. The present findings suggest that the structure of the vertebral body is optimized to sustain compressive forces, whereas even a small tilt angle makes the vertebral structure work under suboptimal conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1281-1292
Number of pages12
JournalSpine Journal
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2013


  • In vitro mechanical testing
  • Lumbar spine
  • Strain distribution
  • Structural optimization
  • Vertebral body

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Surgery


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