A cadaveric study was done to analyze the dimensional changes in the spinal canal and intervertebral foramen of the lumber spine with flexion and extension movements.

To investigate the relationship between flexion and extension movements and morphologic changes in the spinal canal and the intervertebral foramen.

Previous studies have reported that the dimensions of the spinal canal and the intervertebral foramen may change significantly with motion. The purpose of this study was to assess the quantitative changes in the spinal canal and the intervertebral foramen with segmental flexion-extension movements.

Nineteen fresh cadaveric spines yielding 25 motion segments were used. The lumbar motion segments were frozen and then imaged in axial and sagittal projections by a computed tomography scanner. They were thawed then, and the motion segments were loaded to 5.7 Nm in flexion (13 motion segments) and in extension (12 motion segments) specimens. While in flexion or extension, the specimens again were frozen and imaged by computed tomography scan. The frozen specimens than were sliced using a cryomicrotome in the sagittal plane to study the dimensions of the intervertebral foramen. Eighteen other fresh cadaveric spines were sliced sagittally for study in the neutral position.

The axial computed tomography scans showed that extension significantly decreased the canal area, midsagittal diameter, and subarticular sagittal diameter, whereas flexion had the opposite effects. The sagittal computed tomography scans showed that extension decreased all the foraminal dimensions significantly, whereas flexion increased all the foraminal dimensions significantly. The translational changes were associated with the bulging of the disc and the presence of traction spurs. The cryomicrotome sections showed the cross-sectional area of the foramen to be 12% greater for the flexion group and 15% smaller for the extension group than the cross-sectional area of the neutral group. Nerve root compression in the foramen was found to be 21.0% in neutral, 15.4% in flexion, and 33.3% in extension groups.

The study supports the concept of dynamic spinal stenosis. In addition to static anatomic changes, careful dynamic studies may be required to evaluate better the central canal and the foramen.

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