What have we learned from finite element model studies of lumbar intervertebral discs in the past four decades?

Hendrik Schmidt, Fabio Galbusera, Antonius Rohlmann, Aboulfazl Shirazi-Adl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Finite element analysis is a powerful tool routinely used to study complex biological systems. For the last four decades, the lumbar intervertebral disc has been the focus of many such investigations. To understand the disc functional biomechanics, a precise knowledge of the disc mechanical, structural and biochemical environments at the microscopic and macroscopic levels is essential. In response to this need, finite element model studies have proven themselves as reliable and robust tools when combined with in vitro and in vivo measurements. This paper aims to review and discuss some salient findings of reported finite element simulations of lumbar intervertebral discs with special focus on their relevance and implications in disc functional biomechanics. Towards this goal, the earlier investigations are presented, discussed and summarized separately in three distinct groups of elastic, multi-phasic transient and transport model studies. The disc overall response as well as the relative role of its constituents are markedly influenced by loading rate, magnitude, combinations/preloads and posture. The nucleus fluid content and pressurizing capacity affect the disc compliance, annulus strains and failure sites/modes. Biodynamics of the disc is affected by not only the excitation characteristics but also preloads, existing mass and nucleus condition. The role of fluid pressurization and collagen fiber stiffening diminish with time during diurnal loading. The endplates permeability influences the time-dependent response of the disc in both loaded and unloaded recovery phases. The transport of solutes is substantially influenced by the disc size, tissue diffusivity and endplates permeability.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2342-2355
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Biomechanics
Issue number14
Publication statusPublished - Sep 27 2013


  • Elasto-dynamics
  • Elasto-static
  • Finite element model studies
  • Intervertebral disc
  • Multi-phasic transient
  • Transport

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Rehabilitation
  • Biophysics
  • Biomedical Engineering


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