The cervical spine ligaments play an essential role in limiting the physiological ranges of motion in the neck; however, traumatic loading such as that experienced in automotive crash scenarios can lead to ligament damage and result in neck injury. The development of detailed neck models to evaluate the response and the potential for injury requires accurate ligament mechanical properties at relevant loading rates.
The objective of this study was to measure the mechanical properties of the cervical spine ligaments, by performing tensile tests at elongation rates relevant to car crash scenarios, using younger specimens (≤50 years), in simulated in vivo conditions, and to provide a comprehensive investigation of gender and spinal level effects.
The five ligaments investigated were the anterior longitudinal ligament, posterior longitudinal ligament, capsular ligament, ligamentum flavum, and interspinous ligament. Ligaments were tested in tension at quasi-static (0.5 s−1), medium (20 s−1) and high (150–250 s−1) strain rates. The high strain rates represented typical car crash scenarios as determined using an existing cervical spine finite element model.
In total, 261 ligament tests were performed, with approximately even distribution within elongation rate, spinal level, and gender. The measured force–displacement data followed expected trends compared to previous studies. The younger ligaments investigated in this study demonstrated less scatter, and were both stiffer and stronger than comparable data from older specimens reported in previous studies. Strain rate effects were most significant, while spinal level effects were limited. Gender effects were not significant, but consistent trends were identified, with male ligaments having a higher stiffness and failure force than female ligaments.