This study is focused to evaluate the threshold of injury to an intervertebral joint based on its mechanical response. The load-deflection behavior of the intervertebral joint indicated non-linear and sigmoidal characteristics with continuously changing stiffness (a measure of the ability to withstand external force). The load corresponding to the point of zero stiffness was identified, according to the classical theories of mechanics, as the maximum load carrying capacity. Further, the initiation of trauma was defined to occur at the point on the load-deflection curve at which the stiffness begins to decrease for the first time. The load, stiffness and energy absorbing capabilities of normal and degenerated intervertebral joints at the initiation of trauma was determined.
Axial compressive load experiments were conducted on nine intervertebral joints of fresh human male cadavers and the resulting load-deflection responses were transformed into stiffness-deflection responses using the derivative principle. Energy characteristics were also derived. Load, stiffness and energy at the initiation of trauma were found to be 9.0 kN, 2850 N mm−1, and 10.2 J for normal and 4.4 kN, 1642 N mm−1, and 5.8 J for degenerated segments, respectively. The load and energy values at failure were 11.0 kN, and 18.0 J for normal and 5.3 kN and 5.7 J for degenerated intervertebral joints, respectively.