Cervical spinal instability due to ligamentous injury, degenerated disc and facetectomy is a subject of great controversy. There is no analytical investigation reported on the biomechanical response of cervical spine in these respects. Parametric study on the roles of ligaments, facets, and disc nucleus of human lower cervical spine (C4–C6) was conducted for the very first time using noninvasive finite element method.
A three-dimensional (3D) finite element (FE) model of the human lower cervical spine, consisted of 11,187 nodes and 7730 elements modeling the bony vertebrae, articulating facets, intervertebral disc, and associated ligaments, was developed and validated against the published data under three load configurations: axial compression; flexion; and extension. The FE model was further modified accordingly to investigate the role of disc, facets and ligaments in preserving cervical spine motion segment stability in these load configurations. The passive FE model predicted the nonlinear force displacement response of the human cervical spine, with increasing stiffness at higher loads. It also predicted that ligaments, facets or disc nucleus are crucial to maintain the cervical spine stability, in terms of sagittal rotational movement or redistribution of load. FE method of analysis is an invaluable application that can supplement experimental research in understanding the clinical biomechanics of the human cervical spine.