Study Design: A finite element parametric analysis to investigate the relative load carrying roles of the shell and centrum in the lumbar vertebral body.
Objective: To address the issue of the structural role of the vertebral shell and clarify some of the contradictions raised by previous studies.
Summary of Background Data: A number of experimental and finite element studies have attempted to quantify the relative structural roles of the shell and centrum, but these studies support no consensus on the relative contribution of the shell to vertebral body strength.
Methods: The authors developed finite element models to predict the fraction of the total compressive force acting on the lumbar vertebral body that is carried by the shell. Parametric variations were investigated to determine how the fraction of shell force was affected by changes in shell thickness, shell and centrum modulus, centrum anisotropy, and loading conditions.
Results: The fraction of compressive force carried by the shell increased from approximately 0 at the endplate to approximately 0.2 at the mid-transverse plane for a typical case. The shell force was highly sensitive to the degree of anisotropy of the trabecular centrum but was relatively insensitive to changes in shell thickness and the ratio of shell-to-centrum elastic modulus.
Conclusions: The conflicting conclusions of previous studies about the structural roles of the vertebral shell and centrum can be explained by differences in their methods. Our findings support the claims that the shell accounts for only approximately 10% of vertebral strength in vivo and that the trabecular centrum is the dominant structural component of the vertebral body.