Asymmetric in-plane shear behavior of isolated cadaveric lumbar facet capsular ligaments: Implications for subject specific biomechanical models

Emily A. Bermel, Seema Thakral, Amy A. Claeson, Arin M. Ellingson, Victor H. Barocas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


The facet capsular ligaments (FCLs) flank the spinous process on the posterior aspect of the spine. The lumbar FCL is collagenous, with collagen fibers aligned primarily bone-to-bone (medial-lateral) and experiences significant shear, especially during spinal flexion and extension. We characterized the mechanical response of the lumbar FCL to in-plane shear, and we evaluated that response in the context of the fiber architecture. In-plane shear tests with both positive and negative shear (i.e., corresponding to flexion and to extension) were performed on eight cadaveric human L4-L5 FCLs. Our most striking observation was subject-dependent asymmetry in the response. All samples showed a toe region of low stiffness, transitioning to greater stiffness at higher strains, for both shear directions. Different samples showed profoundly different transition strains, with some samples stiffening more rapidly in positive shear and some in negative shear. This unpredictable asymmetry, which did not correlate with age, side, or degeneration state, suggesting that collagen fibers in the FCL are sometimes aligned at a slight positive angle from the bone-to-bone axis and sometimes at a negative angle. Fitting the experimental data to a fiber-composite-based finite element model supported this idea, yielding optimal fits with positive or negative off-axis fiber directions (−40° to +40°). Subsequent examination of selected FCLs by small-angle x-ray scattering (SAXS) showed a similar variability in fiber direction. We conclude that small individual differences in lumbar FCL architecture may have a significant effect on lumbar FCL mechanics, especially at moderate strains.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number109814
JournalJournal of Biomechanics
StatePublished - May 22 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding provided through NIH/NIAMS T32 AR050938 Musculoskeletal Training Grant, NIH/NICHD K12 HD073945 and NIH/NIBIB U01AT010326.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Elsevier Ltd


  • Facet capsular ligaments
  • Finite element model
  • Lumbar spine
  • Shear mechanics

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural


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