Spine biomechanics (Fragment)

By: Michael A. Adams, Patricia Dolan

Department of Anatomy, University of Bristol, Southwell Street, Bristol BS2 8EJ, UK


Current trends in spine research are reviewed in order to suggest future opportunities for biomechanics. Recent studies show that psychosocial factors influence back pain behaviour but are not important causes of pain itself. Severe back pain most often arises from intervertebral discs, apophyseal joints and sacroiliac joints, and physical disruption of these structures is strongly but variably linked to pain. Typical forms of structural disruption can be reproduced by severe mechanical loading in-vitro, with genetic and agerelated weakening sometimes leading to injury under moderate loading.

Biomechanics can be used to quantify spinal loading and movements, to analyse load distributions and injury mechanisms, and to develop therapeutic interventions. The authors suggest that techniques for quantifying spinal loading should be capable of measurement ‘‘in the field’’ so that they can be used in epidemiological surveys and ergonomic interventions.Great accuracy is not required for this task, because injury risk depends on tissue weakness as much as peak loading.

Biomechanical tissue testing and finite-element modelling should complement each other, with experiments establishing proof of concept, and models supplying detail and optimising designs. Suggested priority areas for future research include: understanding interactions between intervertebral discs and adjacent vertebrae; developing prosthetic and tissue-engineered discs; and quantifying spinal function during rehabilitation. ‘‘Mechanobiology’’ has perhaps the greatest future potential, because spinal degeneration and healing are both mediated by the activity of cells which are acutely sensitive to their local mechanical environment. Precise characterisation and manipulation of this environment will be a major challenge for spine biomechanics.


Keywords: Spine; Back pain; Biomechanics; Forces; Mechanobiology; Review


2. Current trends in spine research
2.1. Back pain is associated with spinal degeneration
2.2. Genetic inheritance, ageing, and loading history make spinal tissues vulnerable to injury
2.3. Mechanical loading can precipitate spinal injury
2.4. Spinal ‘‘degeneration’’ can represent a cell-mediated response to injury
2.5. Functional pathology: spinal pain can arise without degeneration?