Contrasting results are reported when the spine is tested at different strain rates. Tissue specimens from the ligaments or the intervertebral discs (IVD, including annulus fibrosus and nucleus pulposus) exhibit higher stiffness and lower dissipation at high strain rates. Counterintuitively, when spine segments are tested at high rates, the hysteresis area and loop width increase. It is unclear how the load is shared between the different structures at different loading rates. The hypotheses of this study were: (i) As the IVD stiffens at higher loading rates, the strain distribution around the disc would be depend on the loading rate; (ii) Pre-conditioning attenuates the strain-rate dependency of the IVD, thus making differences in strain distribution smaller at the different rates.
Six segments of three vertebrae (L4-L6) were extracted from porcine spines and tested in presso-flexion at different loading rates (reaching full load in 0.67s, 6.7s and 67s). The full-field strain maps were measured using digital image correlation on the surface of the IVDs from lateral. The posterior-to-anterior trends of the strain were computed in detail for each IVD, for each loading rate.
The values and the direction of principal strain on the surface of the IVDs, vertebrae, and endplates remained unchanged at different rates. In the transition zone between IVD and vertebra, only slight differences due to the loading rate appeared but with no statistical significance. These findings will allow better understanding of the rate-dependent behaviour and failure of the IVD.