The concept of semi-rigid fixation (SRF) has driven the development of spinal implants that utilize nonmetallic materials and novel rod geometries in an effort to promote fusion via a balance of stability, intra- and inter-level load sharing, and durability. The purpose of this study was to characterize the mechanical and biomechanical properties of a pedicle screw-based polyetheretherketone (PEEK) SRF system for the lumbar spine to compare its kinematic, structural, and durability performance profile against that of traditional lumbar fusion systems. Performance of the SRF system was characterized using a validated spectrum of experimental, computational, and in vitro testing. Finite element models were first used to optimize the size and shape of the polymeric rods and bound their performance parameters. Subsequently, benchtop tests determined the static and dynamic performance threshold of PEEK rods in relevant loading modes (flexion-extension (F/E), axial rotation (AR), and lateral bending (LB)). Numerical analyses evaluated the amount of anteroposterior column load sharing provided by both metallic and PEEK rods. Finally, a cadaveric spine simulator was used to determine the level of stability that PEEK rods provide. Under physiological loading conditions, a 6.35 mm nominal diameter oval PEEK rod construct unloads the bone-screw interface and increases anterior column load (approx. 75% anterior, 25% posterior) when compared to titanium (Ti) rod constructs. The PEEK construct’s stiffness demonstrated a value lower than that of all the metallic rod systems, regardless of diameter or metallic composition (78% < 5.5 mm Ti; 66% < 4.5 mm Ti; 38% < 3.6 mm Ti). The endurance limit of the PEEK construct was comparable to that of clinically successful metallic rod systems (135N at 5 × 10(6) cycles). Compared to the intact state, cadaveric spines implanted with PEEK constructs demonstrated a significant reduction of range of motion in all three loading directions (> 80% reduction in F/E, p < 0.001; > 70% reduction in LB, p < 0.001; > 54% reduction in AR, p < 0.001). There was no statistically significant difference in the stability provided by the PEEK rods and titanium rods in any mode (p = 0.769 for F/E; p = 0.085 for LB; p = 0.633 for AR). The CD HORIZON(®) LEGACY(™) PEEK Rod System provided intervertebral stability comparable to currently marketed titanium lumbar fusion constructs. PEEK rods also more closely approximated the physiologic anteroposterior column load sharing compared to results with titanium rods. The durability, stability, strength, and biomechanical profile of PEEK rods were demonstrated and the potential advantages of SRF were highlighted.
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