Some older patients who suffered from both conditions (disc degeneration and osteoporosis) have higher surgical risks and longer postoperative recovery times. Understanding the relation between disc degeneration and osteoporosis is fundamental to know the mechanisms of orthopedic disorders and improve clinical treatment. However, there is a lack of finite element (FE) studies to predict the combined effects of disc degeneration and osteoporosis. So the aim of the present study is to explore the differences of biomechanical effects of lumbar disc degeneration on normal patients and osteoporotic patients.
A normal lumbar spine finite element model (FEM) was developed based on the geometric information of a healthy male subject (age 35 years; height 178 cm; weight 65 kg). This normal lumbar spine FEM was modified to build three lumbar spine degeneration models simulating mild, moderate and severe grades of disc degeneration at the L4-L5 segment. Then the degenerative lumbar spine models for osteoporotic patients were constructed on the basis of the above-mentioned degeneration models. Firstly, the normal model (flexion: 8 Nm; extension: 6 Nm; lateral bending: 6 Nm; torsion: 4 Nm) and degenerative models (10 Nm) were calibrated under pure moment load, respectively. Secondly, under a 400 N follower load, the 7.5 Nm moments of different directions were applied on all models to simulate different motion postures. Finally, under the above loading conditions, we calculated and analyzed the range of motion (ROM), Mises stress in cortical (MSC1), Mises stress in endplate (MSE), Mises stress in cancellous (MSC2), and Mises stress in post (MSP).
Compared with disc degeneration patients without osteoporosis, the ROM, MSC1, and MSE of osteoporosis patients with various disc degeneration decreased in all postures, while the MSC2 and MSP increased. With increase in the degree of disc degeneration, the reduction proportions of ROM and MSE in osteoporotic patients gradually increased, while the reduction percentages in MSC1 of osteoporotic patients gradually decreased. The increase percentages of MSC2 in osteoporotic patients gradually increased. Given the progressive changes of disc degeneration, the changes in MSP in osteoporosis patients were uneven.
In summary, the effect of disc degeneration on flexibility in the two kinds of patients (osteoporosis and non-osteoporosis patients) was nearly same. By comparing the remaining biomechanical parameters (MSC1, MSE, MSC2, and MSP), we found that degenerated intervertebral discs caused changes in loading patterns of osteoporosis patients. Disc degeneration reduced the Mises stress in the cortical and endplate, which increased the Mises stress in the cancellous and post. That is to say, in order to cope with the changes in bone stresses caused by disc degeneration and osteoporosis, clinicians should be more careful in choosing the surgical option for osteoporotic patients with disc degeneration.

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