FIELD OF THE INVENTION
This invention relates generally to a spinal implant assembly for implantation into the intervertebral space between adjacent vertebral bones to simultaneously provide stabilization and continued flexibility and proper anatomical motion, and more specifically to such a device which utilizes a spirally slotted belleville washer having a radially varying thickness profile as a restoring force generating element.
BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
The bones and connective tissue of an adult human spinal column consists of more than 20 discrete bones coupled sequentially to one another by a tri-joint complex which consists of an anterior disc and the two posterior facet joints, the anterior discs of adjacent bones being cushioned by cartilage spacers referred to as intervertebral discs. These more than 20 bones are anatomically categorized as being members of one of four classifications: cervical, thoracic, lumbar, or sacral. The cervical portion of the spine, which comprises the top of the spine, up to the base of the skull, includes the first 7 vertebrae. The intermediate 12 bones are the thoracic vertebrae, and connect to the lower spine comprising the 5 lumbar vertebrae. The base of the spine is the sacral bones (including the coccyx). The component bones of the cervical spine are generally smaller than those of the thoracic spine, which are in turn smaller than those of the lumbar region. The sacral region connects laterally to the pelvis. While the sacral region is an integral part of the spine, for the purposes of fusion surgeries and for this disclosure, the word spine shall refer only to the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar regions.
The spinal column of bones is highly complex in that it includes over twenty bones coupled to one another, housing and protecting critical elements of the nervous system having innumerable peripheral nerves and circulatory bodies in close proximity. In spite of these complications, the spine is a highly flexible structure, capable of a high degree of curvature and twist in nearly every direction.
Genetic or developmental irregularities, trauma, chronic stress, tumors, and degenerative wear are a few of the causes which can result in spinal pathologies for which surgical intervention may be necessary. A variety of systems have been disclosed in the art which achieve immobilization and/or fusion of adjacent bones by implanting artificial assemblies in or on the spinal column. The region of the back which needs to be immobilized, as well as the individual variations in anatomy, determine the appropriate surgical protocol and implantation assembly. With respect to the failure of the intervertebral disc, the interbody fusion cage has generated substantial interest because it can be implanted laparoscopically into the anterior of the spine, thus reducing operating room time, patient recovery time, and scarification.
Referring now to FIGS. 1 and 2, in which a side perspective view of an intervertebral body cage and an anterior perspective view of a post implantation spinal column are shown, respectively, a more complete description of these devices of the prior art is herein provided. These cages 10 generally comprise tubular metal body 12 having an external surface threading 14. They are inserted transverse to the axis of the spine 16, into preformed cylindrical holes at the junction of adjacent vertebral bodies (in FIG. 2 the pair of cages 10 are inserted between the fifth lumbar vertebra (L5) and the top of the sacrum (S1). Two cages 10 are generally inserted side by side with the external threading 14 tapping into the lower surface of the vertebral bone above (L5), and the upper surface of the vertebral bone (S1) below. The cages 10 include holes 18 through which the adjacent bones are to grow.. Additional material, for example autogenous bone graft materials, may be inserted into the hollow interior 20 of the cage 10 to incite or accelerate the growth of the bone into the cage. End caps (not shown) are often utilized to hold the bone graft material within the cage 10.
These cages of the prior art have enjoyed medical success in promoting fusion and grossly approximating proper disc height. It is, however, important to note that the fusion of the adjacent bones is an incomplete solution to the underlying pathology as it does not cure the ailment, but rather simply masks the pathology under a stabilizing bridge of bone. This bone fusion limits the overall flexibility of the spinal column and artificially constrains the normal motion of the patient. This constraint can cause collateral injury to the patient's spine as additional stresses of motion, normally borne by the now-fused joint, are transferred onto the nearby facet joints and intervertebral discs. It would therefore, be a considerable advance in the art to provide an implant assembly which does not promote fusion, but, rather, which nearly completely mimics the biomechanical action of the natural disc cartilage, thereby permitting continued normal motion and stress distribution. It is, therefore, an object of the present invention to provide a new and novel intervertebral spacer which stabilizes the spine without promoting a bone fusion across the intervertebral space.
It is further an object of the present invention to provide an implant device which stabilizes the spine while still permitting normal motion.
It is further an object of the present invention to provide a device for implantation into the intervertebral space which does not promote the abnormal distribution of biomechanical stresses on the patient's spine.
Other objects of the present invention not explicitly stated will be set forth and will be more clearly understood in conjunction with the descriptions of the preferred embodiments disclosed hereafter.
SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
The preceding objects of the invention are achieved by the present invention which is a flexible intervertebral spacer device comprising a pair of spaced apart base plates, arranged in a substantially parallel planar alignment (or slightly offset relative to one another in accordance with proper lordotic angulation) and coupled to one another by means of a spring mechanism. In particular, this spring mechanism provides a strong restoring force when a compressive load is applied to the plates, and may also permit limited rotation of the two plates relative to one another. While there are a wide variety of embodiments contemplated, two embodiments (and variations of both) are described herein as representative of preferred types. Each of these embodiments includes a spirally slotted and radially varying thickness belleville washer utilized as its restoring force providing element.
More particularly, with respect to the base plates, which are similar in all embodiments, as the assembly is to be positioned between the facing surfaces of adjacent vertebral bodies, and as such need to have substantially flat external surfaces which seat against the opposing bone surfaces. Inasmuch as these bone surfaces are often concave, it is anticipated that the opposing plates may be convex in accordance with the average topology of the spinal anatomy. In addition, the plates are to mate with the bone surfaces in such a way as to not rotate relative thereto. (The plates rotate relative to one another, but not with respect to the bone surfaces to which they are each in contact with.) In order to prevent rotation of a plate relative to the bone, the upper and lower plates may each further include outwardly directed spikes which penetrate the bone surface and mechanically hold the plates in place. It is further anticipated that the plates could include a porous coating into which the bone of the vertebral body can grow, however, it is not a limitation which is required of embodiments of the invention. (Note that this limited fusion of the bone to the base plate does not extend across the intervertebral space.)
While not preferred, it is possible, that between the base plates, on the exterior of the device, there may be included a circumferential wall which is resilient and which simply prevents vessels and tissues from entering within the interior of the device. This resilient wall may comprise a porous fabric or a semi-impermeable elastomeric material. Suitable tissue compatible materials meeting the simple mechanical requirements of flexibility and durability are prevalent in a number of medical fields including cardiovascular medicine, wherein such materials are utilized for venous and arterial wall repair, or for use with artificial valve replacements. Alternatively, suitable plastic materials are utilized in the surgical repair of gross damage to muscles and organs. Still further materials which could be utilized herein may be found in the field of orthopedic in conjunction with ligament and tendon repair. It is anticipated that future developments in this area will produce materials which are compatible for use with this invention, the breadth of which shall not be limited by the choice of such a material. Notwithstanding the foregoing, such an exterior shroud and/or the interior elastomeric materials which may be compatible with the present invention, they are not preferred for use with the present device.
As introduced above, the internal structure of the present invention comprises a spring member, which provides a restoring force when compressed. More particularly, the force restoring member comprises at least one belleville washer. In the embodiments described herein, the belleville washer has a radially varying thickness. It is desirable that the restoring forces be directed outward against the opposing plates, and for the restoring force versus load profile to vary in a manner which approximates that of the normal healthy intervertebral cartilage. In addition, it is desirable that the restoring force providing subassembly not substantially interfere with the rotation of the opposing plates relative to one another, at least through a range of angles equivalent to that permitted by normal healthy intervertebral cartilage.
More particularly, the restoring force providing subassembly comprises a belleville washer having a radially varying thickness. Belleville washers are washers which are generally bowed in the radial direction. Specifically, they have a radial convexity (i.e., the height of the washers is not linearly related to the radial distance, but may, for example, be parabolic in shape). The restoring force of a belleville washer is proportional to the elastic properties and the thickness of the material. In addition, the magnitude of the compressive load support and the restoring force provided by the belleville washer may be modified by providing slots in the washer. In the present invention, there are two separate embodiments each having two variations. The two variations described herein relate to whether the washers include spiral slots which initiate on the periphery of the washer and extend along arcs which are generally radially inwardly directed a distance toward the center of the bowed disc.
The first embodiment (which can exist in two variations, i.e. slotted or unslotted) comprises a radially varying thickness which is grows thicker as the radius increases (the thickness is directly proportional to the radius). In the second embodiment (also existing in the two embodiments which can be either slotted or unslotted), the washers comprise a radially varying thickness which is grows thinner as the radius increases (the thickness is inversely proportional to the radius).
In both of these embodiments, superior reproduction of the anatomical deflection to load characteristics is achieved. As a compressive load is applied to a belleville washer, the forces are directed into a hoop stress which tends to radially expand the washer. This hoop stress is counterbalanced by the material strength of the washer, and the strain of the material causes a deflection in the height of the washer. Stated equivalently, a belleville washer responds to a compressive load by deflecting compressively, but provides a restoring force which is proportional to the elastic modulus of the material in a hoop stressed condition. The purpose of the present invention is to create a non-linear load deflection profile by permitting a portion of the washer to deflect early in the loading, and a more rigid portion to deflect only under more severe loadings. By varying the thickness of the washer material smoothly across it's radial extent, this goal is achieved.
It is preferred that either embodiment be of the variation in which the slots are provided inasmuch as the slots permit the washer to expands and restores itself far more elastically than a solid washer.
In general, the belleville washer is one of the strongest configurations for a spring, and is highly suitable for use as a restoring force providing subassembly for use in an intervertebral spacer element which must endure considerable cyclical loading in an active human adult.
Referring now to the specific structure of the device, the selected belleville washer is utilized in conjunction with a ball-shaped post on which it is free to rotate through a range of angles (thus permitting the plates to rotate relative to one another through a corresponding range of angles). More particularly, the invention comprises a pair of spaced apart base plates, the first of which is simply a disc shaped member having external and internal flat faces. This first plate further includes a circular retaining wall for housing therein a selected belleville washer and a retaining ring. The other of the plates is similarly shaped, having a flat exterior surface, but includes a short central post portion instead of the circular retaining wall. This central post rises out of the interior face at a nearly perpendicular angle. The top of this short post portion includes a ball-shaped knob. The knob includes a central threaded axial bore which receives a small set screw. Prior to the insertion of the set screw, the ball-shaped head of the post can deflect radially inward (so that the ball-shaped knob contracts). The insertion of the set screw eliminates the capacity for this deflection.
As introduced above, radially modified thickness (and potentially spirally slotted) belleville washer is mounted to this ball-shaped knob in such a way that it may rotate freely through a range of angles equivalent to the fraction of normal human spine rotation (to mimic normal disc rotation). The belleville washer of this design is modified by including an enlarged inner circumferential portion (at the center of the washer) which accommodates the ball-shaped portion of the post. More particularly, the enlarged portion of the modified belleville washer includes a curvate volume having a substantially constant radius of curvature which is also substantially equivalent to the radius of the ball-shaped head of the post. The deflectability of the ball-shaped head of the post, prior to the insertion of the set screw, permits the head to be inserted into the interior volume at the center of the belleville washer. Subsequent introduction of the set screw into the axial bore of the post prevents the ball-shaped head from deflecting. Thereby, the washer can be secured to the ball-shaped head so that it can rotate thereon through a range of proper lordotic angles (in some embodiments, a tightening of the set screw locks the washer on the ball-shaped head at one of the lordotic angles). This assembly provides ample spring-like performance with respect to axial compressive loads, as well as long cycle life to mimic the axial biomechanical performance of the normal human intervertebral disc.