A biomechanical comparison of modern anterior and posterior plate fixation of the cervical spine

Young Do Koh, Tae Hong Lim, Jae Won You, Jason Eck, Howard S. An

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

124 Scopus citations


Study Design. A biomechanical study was designed to assess relative rigidity provided by anterior, posterior, or combined cervical fixation using cadaveric cervical spine models for flexion-distraction injury and burst fracture. Objectives. To compare the construct stability provided by anterior plating with locked fixation screws, posterior plating with lateral mass screws, and combined anterior-posterior fixation in clinically simulated 3-column injury or corpectomy models. Summary of Background Data. Anterior plating with locked fixation screws is the most recent design and is found to provide better stability than the conventional unlocked anterior plating. However, there are few data on the direct comparison of biomechanical stability provided by anterior plating with locked fixation screws versus posterior plating with lateral mass screws. Biomechanical advantages of using combined anterior-posterior fixation compared with that of using either anterior or posterior fixation alone also have not been well investigated yet. Methods. Biomechanical flexibility tests were performed using cervical spines (C2-T1) obtained from 10 fresh human cadavers. In group I (5 specimens), one-level, 3-column injury was created at C4-C5 by removing the ligamentum flavum and bilateral facet capsules, the posterior longitudinal ligament, and the posterior half of the intervertebral disc. In group II (5 specimens), complete corpectomy of C5 was performed to simulate burst injury. In each specimen, the intact spine underwent flexibility tests, and the following constructs were tested: (1) posterior lateral mass screw fixation (Axis plate) after injury; (2) polymethymethacrylate anterior fusion block plus poster or fixation; (3) polymethylmethacrylate block plus anterior (Orion plate) and posterior plate fixation; and (4) polymethylmethacrylate block plus anterior fixation. Rotational angles of the C4-C5 (or C4-C6) segment were measured and normalized by the corresponding angles of the intact specimen to study the overall stabilizing effects. Results. Posterior plating with an interbody graft showed effective stabilization of the unstable cervical segments in all loading modes in all cases. There was no significant stability improvement by the use of combined fixation compared with the posterior fixation with interbody grafting, although combined anterior-posterior fixation tended to provide greater stability than both anterior and posterior fixation alone. Anterior fixation alone was found to fail in stabilizing the cervical spine, particularly in the flexion-distraction injury mode in which no contribution of posterior ligaments is available. Anterior plating fixation provided much greater fixation in the corpectomy model than in the flexion-distraction injury model. This finding suggests that preservation of the posterior ligaments may be an important factor in anterior plating fixation. Conclusions. This study showed that the posterior plating with interbody grafting is biomechanically superior to anterior plating with locked fixation screws for stabilizing the one-level flexion-distraction injury or burst injury. More rigid postoperative external orthoses should be considered if the anterior plating is used alone for the treatment of unstable cervical injuries. It was also found that combined anterior and posterior fixation may not improve the stability significant y as compared with posterior grafting with lateral mass screws and interbody grafting.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15-21
Number of pages7
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2001


  • Biomechanics
  • Burst injury
  • Cervical spine
  • Distraction injury
  • Flexion


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