Open Access Open Badges Research

The effect of starting point placement technique on thoracic transverse process strength: an ex vivo biomechanical study

Barrett S Brown1, Terence E McIff2*, Rudolph C Glattes3, Douglas C Burton2 and Marc A Asher2

Author Affiliations

1 Fondren Orthopedic Group, 7401 S Main St., Houston, TX 77030, USA

2 Dept of Orthopedic Surgery, University of Kansas Medical Center, 3901 Rainbow Blvd, Kansas City, KS 66160, USA

3 Elite Sports Medicine and Orthopaedic Center, 2021 Church St., Ste 200, Nashville, TN 37203, USA

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Scoliosis 2010, 5:14  doi:10.1186/1748-7161-5-14

Published: 13 July 2010



The use of thoracic pedicle screws in spinal deformity, trauma, and tumor reconstruction is becoming more common. Unsuccessful screw placement may require salvage techniques utilizing transverse process hooks. The effect of different starting point placement techniques on the strength of the transverse process has not previously been reported. The purpose of this paper is to determine the biomechanical properties of the thoracic transverse process following various pedicle screw starting point placement techniques.


Forty-seven fresh-frozen human cadaveric thoracic vertebrae from T2 to T9 were disarticulated and matched by bone mineral density (BMD) and transverse process (TP) cross-sectional area. Specimens were randomized to one of four groups: A, control, and three others based on thoracic pedicle screw placement technique; B, straightforward; C, funnel; and D, in-out-in. Initial cortical bone removal for pedicle screw placement was made using a burr at the location on the transverse process or transverse process-laminar junction as published in the original description of each technique. The transverse process was tested measuring load-to-failure simulating a hook in compression mode. Analysis of covariance and Pearson correlation coefficients were used to examine the data.


Technique was a significant predictor of load-to-failure (P = 0.0007). The least squares mean (LS mean) load-to-failure of group A (control) was 377 N, group B (straightforward) 355 N, group C (funnel) 229 N, and group D (in-out-in) 301 N. Significant differences were noted between groups A and C, A and D, B and C, and C and D. BMD (0.925 g/cm2 [range, 0.624-1.301 g/cm2]) was also a significant predictor of load-to-failure, for all specimens grouped together (P < 0.0001) and for each technique (P < 0.05). Level and side tested were not found to significantly correlate with load-to-failure.


The residual coronal plane compressive strength of the thoracic transverse process is dependent upon the screw starting point placement technique. The funnel technique significantly weakens transverse processes as compared to the straightforward technique, which does not significantly weaken the transverse process. It is also dependent upon bone mineral density, and low failure loads even in some control specimens suggest limited usefulness of the transverse process for axial compression loading in the osteoporotic thoracic spine.