Background: To investigate how unilateral cage-instrumented posterior lumbar interbody fusion (PLIF) affects the three-dimensional flexibility in degenerative disc disease by comparing the biomechanical characteristics of unilateral and bilateral cage-instrumented PLIF.Methods: Twelve motion segments in sheep lumbar spine specimens were tested for flexion, extension, axial rotation, and lateral bending by nondestructive flexibility test method using a nonconstrained testing apparatus. The specimens were divided into two equal groups. Group 1 received unilateral procedures while group 2 received bilateral procedures. Laminectomy, facectomy, discectomy, cage insertion and transpedicle screw insertion were performed sequentially after testing the intact status. Changes in range of motion (ROM) and neutral zone (NZ) were compared between unilateral and bilateral cage-instrumented PLIF.Results: Both ROM and NZ, unilateral cage-instrumented PLIF and bilateral cage-instrumented PLIF, transpedicle screw insertion procedure did not revealed a significant difference between flexion-extension, lateral bending and axial rotation direction except the ROM in the axial rotation. The bilateral group's ROM (-1.7 ± 0. 8) of axial rotation was decreased significantly after transpedicle screw insertion procedure in comparison with the unilateral group (-0.2 ± 0.1). In the unilateral cage-instrumented PLIF group, the transpedicle screw insertion procedure did not demonstrate a significant difference between right and left side in the lateral bending and axial rotation direction.Conclusions: Based on the results of this study, unilateral cage-instrumented PLIF and bilateral cage-instrumented PLIF have similar stability after transpedicle screw fixation in the sheep spine model. The unilateral approach can substantially reduce exposure requirements. It also offers the biomechanics advantage of construction using anterior column support combined with pedicle screws just as the bilateral cage-instrumented group. The unpleasant effect of couple motion resulting from inherent asymmetry was absent in the unilateral group.
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