Spinal cord distraction: An in vitro study of length, tension, and tissue pressure

Peter F. Jarzem, John P. Kostuik, Mark Filiaggi, D. John Doyle, Ross Ethier, Charles H. Tator

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Since the Scoliosis Research Society released a report on cord injury related to Harrington rod instrumentation for scoliosis, little has been published on the pathophysiology of this disorder. Dolan et al. (4) described diminished cord blood flow associated with spinal distraction in a cat model, but failed to demonstrate its cause. In this article, we describe a series of in vitro experiments performed on dog and sheep cadaver spinal cords. Controlled distractive forces were applied to spinal cords while monitoring both cord interstitial pressure and cord elongation. A close (Ravg = 0.986) correlation was noted between applied tensile forces and cord interstitial pressure. At 1, 000-g loads, the average tissue pressure obtained was 29.5 cm H20, ranging from 17 to 47 cm H2O. However, it was noted that the cord demonstrated nonlinear tensile elastic properties that appeared exponential in the range examined. These properties are consistent with those described for collagen-containing compounds. We conclude that spinal cord distraction is capable of generating cord tissue pressures that could cause a spinal cord compartment syndrome and thereby seriously impair spinal cord blood flow causing spinal cord injury.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)177-182
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of spinal disorders
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1991
Externally publishedYes


  • Compartment syndrome
  • Distraction
  • In vitro study
  • Interstitial pressure
  • Spinal cord
  • Spinal cord injury

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Clinical Neurology


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