Acoustic emission (AE) sensors are a reliable tool in detecting fracture; however they have not been used to differentiate between compressive osseous and tensile ligamentous failures in the spine. This study evaluated the effectiveness of AE data in detecting the time of injury of ligamentum flavum (LF) and vertebral body (VB) specimens tested in tension and compression, respectively, and in differentiating between these failures. AE signals were collected while LF (n=7) and VB (n=7) specimens from human cadavers were tested in tension and compression (0.4 m/s), respectively. Times of injury (time of peak AE amplitude) were compared to those using traditional methods (VB: time of peak force, LF: visual evidence in high speed video). Peak AE signal amplitudes and frequencies (using Fourier and wavelet transformations) for the LF and VB specimens were compared. In each group, six specimens failed (VB, fracture; LF, periosteal stripping or attenuation) and one did not. Time of injury using AE signals for VB and LF specimens produced average absolute differences to traditional methods of 0.7 (SD=0.2) ms and 2.4 (SD=1.5) ms (representing 14% and 20% of the average loading time), respectively. AE signals from VB fractures had higher amplitudes and frequencies than those from LF failures (average peak amplitude 87.7 (SD=6.9) dB vs. 71.8 (SD=9.8) dB for the inferior sensor, p<0.05; median characteristic frequency from the inferior sensor 97 (interquartile range, IQR, 41) kHz vs. 31 (IQR 2) kHz, p<0.05). These findings demonstrate that AE signals could be used to delineate complex failures of the spine.
Keywords: Vertebral fracture; Spine; Biomechanics; Ligament; Acoustic emission