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A Novel Method for Repeatable Failure Testing of Annulus Fibrosus.

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Tears in the annulus fibrosus (AF) of the intervertebral disk can result in disk herniation and progressive degeneration. Understanding AF failure mechanics is important as research moves toward developing biological repair strategies for herniated disks. Unfortunately, failure mechanics of fiber-reinforced tissues, particularly tissues with fibers oriented off-axis from the applied load, is not well understood, partly due to the high variability in reported mechanical properties and a lack of standard techniques ensuring repeatable failure behavior. Therefore, the objective of this study was to investigate the effectiveness of midlength (ML) notch geometries in producing repeatable and consistent tissue failure within the gauge region of AF mechanical test specimens. Finite element models (FEMs) representing several notch geometries were created to predict the location of bulk tissue failure using a local strain-based criterion. FEM results were validated by experimentally testing a subset of the modeled specimen geometries. Mechanical testing data agreed with model predictions (∼90% agreement), validating the model's predictive power. Two of the modified dog-bone geometries ("half" and "quarter") effectively ensured tissue failure at the ML for specimens oriented along the circumferential-radial and circumferential-axial directions. The variance of measured mechanical properties was significantly lower for notched samples that failed at the ML, suggesting that ML notch geometries result in more consistent and reliable data. In addition, the approach developed in this study provides a framework for evaluating failure properties of other fiber-reinforced tissues, such as tendons and meniscus.

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