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Abstract

Clinical and biomechanical investigations indicate that assessment of vertebral body bone mineral density (BMD) by anteroposterior dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA) is a useful index of vertebral body strength and fracture risk in osteoporosis. However, inclusion of non-force-bearing and small-force-bearing mineralized structures, such as the posterior elements and aortic calcifications, in the measurement of anterior BMD obscures the assessment of vertebral body mass by this technique. Indeed, such interference is particularly severe in the presence of posterior element degeneration or previous spinal surgery. Recent anatomic studies illustrate that the lateral view provides unobstructed visualization of the L3, L4, and possibly L2 vertebral bodies, suggesting that supine lateral BMD may more accurately assess vertebral body fracture risk. We evaluated this hypothesis in a blinded study using human cadaver spines to compare the value of supine lateral and anteroposterior BMD in assessing vertebral body fracture force, average compressive stress, maximum stored strain energy, and strain at failure. Both measures of BMD significantly correlate with these biomechanical measures. However, statistical comparison of the methods using multiple and stepwise regression reveals that supine lateral BMD provides a better assessment of the vertebral body fracture properties than anteroposterior BMD. The enhanced predictive value of supine lateral BMD occurs because of the variable contribution of posterior element mineral to the anteroposterior BMD measurement. Evaluation to test the utility of supine lateral BMD for the assessment of fracture risk and a fracture threshold in patients with osteoporosis is therefore recommended.