Current finite element (FE) models predicting failure behavior comprise single vertebrae, thereby neglecting the role of the posterior elements and intervertebral discs. Therefore, this study aimed to develop a more clinically relevant, case-specific non-linear FE model of two functional spinal units able to predict failure behavior in terms of (i) the vertebra predicted to fail; (ii) deformation of the specimens; (iii) stiffness; and (iv) load to failure. For this purpose, we also studied the effect of different bone density–mechanical properties relationships (material models) on the prediction of failure behavior. Twelve two functional spinal units (T6-T8, T9-T11, T12-L2, and L3-L5) with and without artificial metastases were destructively tested in axial compression. These experiments were simulated using CT-based case-specific non-linear FE models. Bone mechanical properties were assigned using four commonly used material models. In 10 of the 11 specimens our FE model was able to correctly indicate which vertebrae failed during the experiments. However, predictions of the three-dimensional deformations of the specimens were less promising. Whereas stiffness of the whole construct could be strongly predicted (R 2 = 0.637–0.688, p < 0.01), we obtained weak correlations between FE predicted and experimentally determined load to failure, as defined by the total reaction force exhibiting a drop in force (R 2 = 0.219–0.247, p > 0.05). Additionally, we found that the correlation between predicted and experimental fracture loads did not strongly depend on the material model implemented, but the stiffness predictions did. In conclusion, this work showed that, in its current state, our FE models may be used to identify the weakest vertebra, but that substantial improvements are required in order to quantify in vivo failure loads.
- bone metastases
- failure behavior
- finite element models
- fracture prediction
- quantitative computed tomography