Mechanical damage to the intervertebral disc annulus fibrosus subjected to tensile loading

James C. Iatridis, Jeffrey J. MacLean, David A. Ryan

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83 Scopus citations


Damage of the annulus fibrosus is implicated in common spinal pathologies. The objective of this study was to obtain a quantitative relationship between both the number of cycles and the magnitude of tensile strain resulting in damage to the annulus fibrosus. Four rectangular tensile specimens oriented in the circumferential direction were harvested from the outer annulus of 8 bovine caudal discs (n=32) and subjected to one of four tensile testing protocols: (i) ultimate tensile strain (UTS) test; (ii) baseline cyclic test with 4 series of 400 cycles of baseline cyclic loading (peak strain=20% UTS); (iii & iv) acute and fatigue damage cyclic tests consisting of 4×400 cycles of baseline cyclic loading with intermittent loading to 1 and 100 cycles, respectively, with peak tensile strain of 40%, 60%, and 80% UTS. Normalized peak stress for all mechanically loaded specimens was reduced from 0.89 to 0.11 of the baseline control levels, and depended on the magnitude of damaging strain and number of cycles at that damaging strain. Baseline, acute, and fatigue protocols resulted in permanent deformation of 3.5%, 6.7% and 9.6% elongation, respectively. Damage to the laminate structure of the annulus in the absence of biochemical activity in this study was assessed using histology, transmission electron microscopy, and biochemical measurements and was most likely a result of separation of annulus layers (i.e., delamination). Permanent elongation and stress reduction in the annulus may manifest in the motion segment as sub-catastrophic damage including increased neutral zone, disc bulging, and loss of nucleus pulposus pressure. The preparation of rectangular tensile strip specimens required cutting of collagen fibers and may influence absolute values of results, however, it is not expected to affect the comparisons between loading groups or dose-response reported.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)557-565
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Biomechanics
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Collagen damage
  • Fatigue
  • Intervertebral disc
  • Permanent deformation
  • Tensile properties


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