The inverse effects of load transfer and load sharing on axial compressive stiffness

Thomas R. Haher, Amy W. Yeung, Danielle M. Ottaviano, Andrew A. Merola, Steven A. Caruso

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Background context: The goal of spinal instrumentation is to stabilize involved motion segments while fusion occurs. Although some degree of load sharing is necessary for fusion, the ability of the instrumentation system to transfer the load may vary. Purpose: The purpose of this study is to formulate a mathematical relationship between load sharing and load transfer of specific spinal instrumentation systems using a well-accepted mechanical model. Study design/setting: Forty-eight American Society for Testing Materials standard ultra high molecular weight polyethylene cylinders were used as per designation F 1717-96, standard test methods for static and fatigue for spinal implant constructs in a corpectomy model. Methods: Twenty-four spinal assemblies consisting of anterior plates, anterior rod, and posterior rods were subjected to compression bending tests using a MTS Bionix servo-hydraulic material testing apparatus. Each implant was tested in compression bending with and without the addition of a titanium load-sharing cage. The force applied was the independent variable, and the displacement was the dependent variable. The stiffness was determined for each setup with and without the addition of an anterior load-sharing cage. Results: The average axial compressive stiffness of a system increased by a factor of 8.5 with the addition of the load-sharing cage. An inverse relationship existed between the compressive stiffness of the construct and its relative increase achieved with the addition of the load-sharing cage. The compressive stiffness of the system with the addition of the load-sharing cage approached that of the anterior device itself as the system flexibility increased. The ability of instrumentation systems to load share or load transfer and their respective stiffness was determined. Conclusions: The 5-mm rod screw posterior system was compared with the 7-mm Ti posterior system with the addition of one and two devices for transverse traction (DTTs). The rods with the increased diameter had a stiffness of 1723 n/mm with one DTT and 1815 n/mm with two DTTs. The addition of an anterior cage had little effect on the stiffness of these systems. Anterior plate and screw/rod systems were analyzed and showed similar mechanical behavior to the 5-mm posterior rod/screw systems. A significant increase in stiffness was realized with the addition of an anterior cage. A means to determine the load sharing/transferring properties of a spinal instrumentation system is presented. This technique will allow the amount of load transferred from the fusion mass to the instrumentation to be predicted.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)324-329
Number of pages6
JournalSpine Journal
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes


  • Axial compression
  • Instrumentation
  • Load sharing
  • Load transfer
  • Stiffness
  • Stress shielding


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