Clinical, epidemiological, and biomechanical studies suggest the involvement of the cervical facet joint in neck pain. Mechanical studies have suggested the facet capsular ligament to be at risk for subfailure tensile injury during whiplash kinematics of the neck. Ligament mechanical properties can be altered by subfailure injury and such loading can induce cellular damage. However, at present, there is no clear understanding of the physiologic context of subfailure facet capsular ligament injury and mechanical implications for whiplash-related pain. Therefore, this study aimed to define a relationship between mechanical properties at failure and a subfailure condition associated with pain for tension in the rat cervical facet capsular ligament. Tensile failure studies of the C6/C7 rat cervical facet capsular ligament were performed using a customized vertebral distraction device. Force and displacement at failure were measured and stiffness and energy to failure were calculated. Vertebral motions and ligament deformations were tracked and maximum principal strains and their directions were calculated. Mean tensile force at failure (2.96±0.69 N) was significantly greater (p<0.005) than force at subfailure (1.17±0.48 N). Mean ligament stiffness to failure was 0.75±0.27 N/mm. Maximum principal strain at failure (41.3±20.0%) was significantly higher (p=0.003) than the corresponding subfailure value (23.1±9.3%). This study determined that failure and a subfailure painful condition were significantly different in ligament mechanics and findings provide preliminary insight into the relationship between mechanics and pain physiology for this ligament. Together with existing studies, these findings offer additional considerations for defining mechanical thresholds for painful injuries.
Keywords: Facet joint; Ligament; Failure; Strain; Biomechanics