Spinal burst fractures account for about 15% of spinal injuries and, because of their predominance in the younger population, there are large associated social and healthcare costs. Although several experimental studies have investigated the burst fracture process, little work has been undertaken using computational methods. The aim of this study was to develop a finite element model of the fracture process and, in combination with experimental data, gain a better understanding of the fracture event and mechanism of injury. Experimental tests were undertaken to simulate the burst fracture process in a bovine spine model. After impact, each specimen was dissected and the severity of fracture assessed. Two of the specimens tested at the highest impact rate were also dynamically filmed during the impact. A finite element model, based on CT data of an experimental specimen, was constructed and appropriate high strain rate material properties assigned to each component. Dynamic validation was undertaken by comparison with high-speed video data of an experimental impact. The model was used to determine the mechanism of fracture and the post-fracture impact of the bony fragment onto the spinal cord. The dissection of the experimental specimens showed burst fractures of increasing severity with increasing impact energy. The finite element model demonstrated that a high tensile strain region was generated in the posterior of the vertebral body due to the interaction of the articular processes. The region of highest strain corresponded well with the experimental specimens. A second simulation was used to analyse the fragment projection into the spinal canal following fracture. The results showed that the posterior longitudinal ligament became stretched and at higher energies the spinal cord and the dura mater were compressed by the fragment. These structures deformed to a maximum level before forcing the fragment back towards the vertebral body. The final position of the fragment did not therefore represent the maximum dynamic canal occlusion.
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