Biomechanical effect of age-related structural changes on cervical intervertebral disc: A finite element study

Hui-Zi Zeng, Liang-Dong Zheng, Meng-Lei Xu, Shi Jie Zhu, Liang Zhou, Antonio Candito, Tao Wu, Rui Zhu*, Yuhang Chen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Previous literature has investigated the biomechanical response of healthy and degenerative discs, but the biomechanical response of suboptimal healthy intervertebral discs received less attention. The purpose was to compare the biomechanical responses and risk of herniation of young healthy, suboptimal healthy, and degenerative intervertebral discs. A cervical spine model was established and validated using the finite element method. Suboptimal healthy, mildly, moderately, and severely degenerative disc models were developed. Disc height deformation, range of motion, intradiscal pressure, and von Mises stress in annulus fibrosus were analyzed by applying a moment of 4 Nm in flexion, extension, lateral bending, and axial rotation with 100 N compressive loads. Disc height deformation in young healthy, suboptimal healthy, mildly, moderately, and severely degenerative discs was 40%, 37%, 21%, 12%, and 8%, respectively. The decreasing order of the range of motion was young healthy spine > suboptimal healthy spine > mildly degenerative spine > moderately degenerative spine > severely degenerative spine. The mean stress of annulus ground substance in the suboptimal healthy disc was higher than in the young healthy disc. The mean stress of inter-lamellar matrix and annulus ground substance in moderately and severely degenerative discs was higher than in other discs. Age-related structural changes and degenerative changes increased the stiffness and reduced the elastic deformation of intervertebral discs. Decreased range of motion due to the effects of aging or degeneration on the intervertebral disc, may cause compensation of adjacent segments and lead to progressive degeneration of multiple segments. The effect of aging on the intervertebral disc increased the risk of annulus fibrosus damage from the biomechanical point of view. Moderately and severely degenerative discs may have a higher risk of herniation due to the higher risk of damage and layers separation of annulus fibrosus caused by increased stress in the annulus ground substance and inter-lamellar matrix.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1541-1551
Number of pages11
JournalProceedings of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Part H: Journal of Engineering in Medicine
Issue number10
Early online date10 Sept 2022
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2022


  • aging
  • biomechanics
  • Cervical intervertebral discs
  • degeneration
  • finite element simulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Mechanical Engineering


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