Extensive experimental work on the effects of penetrating annular injuries indicated that large injuries impact axial compressive properties of small animal intervertebral discs, yet there is some disagreement regarding the sensitivity of mechanical tests to small injury sizes. In order to understand the mechanism of injury size sensitivity, this study proposed a simple one dimensional model coupling elastic deformations in the annulus with fluid flow into and out of the nucleus through both porous boundaries and through a penetrating annular injury. The model was evaluated numerically in dynamic compression with parameters obtained by fitting the solution to experimental stress-relaxation data. The model predicted low sensitivity of mechanical changes to injury diameter at both small and large sizes (as measured by low and high ratios of injury diameter to annulus thickness), with a narrow range of high sensitivity in between. The size at which axial mechanics were most sensitive to injury size (i.e., critical injury size) increased with loading frequency. This study provides a quantitative hypothetical model of how penetrating annulus fibrosus injuries in discs with a gelatinous nucleus pulposus may alter disc mechanics by changing nucleus pulposus fluid pressurization through introduction of a new fluid transport pathway though the annulus. This model also explains how puncture-induced biomechanical changes depend on both injury size and test protocol.

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