Background: Annulus tears and endplate fracture are common lesions in human intervertebral discs. Both cause degenerative changes in animal models, but the time course appears to be different. The purpose of the present experiment is to compare the effects of outer annulus tears and endplate fracture on intradiscal stresses. We hypothesise that endplate fracture provides a greater stimulus for disc degeneration. Methods: Seven cadaveric lumbar "motion segments" aged 49-70 years were compressed at 2 kN while the distribution of compressive stress was measured in each disc by pulling a 1.3 mm-diameter pressure transducer along its mid-sagittal diameter. Measurements were repeated after rim tears were simulated by 10 mm-deep scalpel cuts into the outer anterior annulus. The first cut was horizontal, 15 mm to the right of the disc midline, near the junction with the upper endplate. The second cut was vertical, 15 mm to the left of the disc midline, at mid-disc height. The third cut was horizontal, in the disc midline and at mid-disc height, so that the cut passed through the needle hole of the pressure transducer. Stress profiles were recorded in three postures and at two load levels, after each cut. Stress measurements were repeated a final time following compressive overload sufficient to fracture the endplate. Findings: Outer annulus tears had negligible effect on compressive stress distributions in the annulus fibrosus more than 15 mm from the scalpel cut, and they caused nucleus pressure to fall by only 1% (SD 1.3%, NS). In contrast, endplate fracture reduced nucleus pressure by 37% (P = 0.004) and increased maximum stress within the posterior annulus by 93% (P = 0.033). Interpretation: Outer annulus tears have less (immediate) effects on intradiscal compressive stresses than endplate fracture, supporting our hypothesis. © 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
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