The contribution of the cortical shell to pedicle screw fixation

Matthew Henry Pelletier, Nicky Bertollo, Darweesh Al-Khawaja, William Robert Walsh


Background: A pedicle screw insertion technique known as “hubbing” involves the removal of cortical bone around the screw insertion with the aim of improving fixation and decreasing screw loosening. However, the efficacy of this procedure relative to bone density and early loading have not been fully explored. The purpose of this study is to establish the contribution of the cortical layer (hubbing), cancellous density, early loading (toggling) in an idealised model. This is an in vitro laboratory study.
Methods: Synthetic bone blocks with cancellous bulk and a simulated cortical shell were implanted with 6.5 mm pedicle screws. Three key variables were evaluated in this study; density of the simulated bone (10–20 lb/ft3), toggling (±0.5 mm for 10,000 cycles), and the presence or absence of the surrounding cortex (hubbing). Pullout testing after toggling was performed to determine maximum load, stiffness and energy. Results were analyzed to assess interaction and main effects.
Results: Removal of the cortex decreased the pullout loads by approximately 1,100 N after toggling. Toggling in the presence of the cortical shell had no effect. However, once the cortical shell is removed damage to the weaker cancellous bone accumulates and further compromises the fixation.
Conclusions: The addition of a cortical layer in the Sawbone model is significant and provides a more realistic model of load sharing. The cortex plays a considerable role in the protection of underlying cancellous bone as well as contributing to initial pullout strength. The results of this study demonstrate a negative synergistic effect when both toggling and hubbing are applied to the weaker bone.