Mechanisms for mechanical damage in the intervertebral disc annulus fibrosus

Iolo A. ap Gwynn, J. C. Iatridis

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Intervertebral disc degeneration results in disorganization of the laminate structure of the annulus that may arise from mechanical microfailure. Failure mechanisms in the annulus were investigated using composite lamination theory and other analyses to calculate stresses in annulus layers, interlaminar shear stress, and the region of stress concentration around a fiber break. Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) was used to evaluate failure patterns in the annulus and evaluate novel structural features of the disc tissue. Stress concentrations in the annulus due to an isolated fiber break were localized to approximately 5μm away from the break, and only considered a likely cause of annulus fibrosus failure (i.e., radial tears in the annulus) under extreme loading conditions or when collagen damage occurs over a relatively large region. Interlaminar shear stresses were calculated to be relatively large, to increase with layer thickness (as reported with degeneration), and were considered to be associated with propagation of circumferential tears in the annulus. SEM analysis of intervertebral disc annulus fibrosus tissue demonstrated a clear laminate structure, delamination, matrix cracking, and fiber failure. Novel structural features noted with SEM also included the presence of small tubules that appear to run along the length of collagen fibers in the annulus and a distinct collagenous structure representative of a pericellular matrix in the nucleus region.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1165-1175
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Biomechanics
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2004


  • Intervertebral disc
  • Annulus fibrosus
  • Collagen fiber damage
  • Interlaminar shear stress
  • Delamination


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