European Spine Journal

, Volume 14, Issue 3, pp 234–242 | Cite as

Anterior thoracic posture increases thoracolumbar disc loading

  • Deed E. Harrison
  • Christopher J. Colloca
  • Donald D. Harrison
  • Tadeusz J. Janik
  • Jason W. Haas
  • Tony S. Keller
Original Article


In the absence of external forces, the largest contributor to intervertebral disc (IVD) loads and stresses is trunk muscular activity. The relationship between trunk posture, spine geometry, extensor muscle activity, and the loads and stresses acting on the IVD is not well understood. The objective of this study was to characterize changes in thoracolumbar disc loads and extensor muscle forces following anterior translation of the thoracic spine in the upright posture. Vertebral body geometries (C2 to S1) and the location of the femoral head and acetabulum centroids were obtained by digitizing lateral, full-spine radiographs of 13 men and five women volunteers without previous history of back pain. Two standing, lateral, full-spine radiographic views were obtained for each subject: a neutral-posture lateral radiograph and a radiograph during anterior translation of the thorax relative to the pelvis (while keeping T1 aligned over T12). Extensor muscle loads, and compression and shear stresses acting on the IVDs, were calculated for each posture using a previously validated biomechanical model. Comparing vertebral centroids for the neutral posture to the anterior posture, subjects were able to anterior translate +101.5 mm±33.0 mm (C7–hip axis), +81.5 mm±39.2 mm (C7–S1) (vertebral centroid of C7 compared with a vertical line through the vertebral centroid of S1), and +58.9 mm±19.1 mm (T12–S1). In the anterior translated posture, disc loads and stresses were significantly increased for all levels below T9. Increases in IVD compressive loads and shear loads, and the corresponding stresses, were most marked at the L5–S1 level and L3–L4 level, respectively. The extensor muscle loads required to maintain static equilibrium in the upright posture increased from 147.2 N (mean, neutral posture) to 667.1 N (mean, translated posture) at L5–S1. Compressive loads on the anterior and posterior L5–S1 disc nearly doubled in the anterior translated posture. Anterior translation of the thorax resulted in significantly increased loads and stresses acting on the thoracolumbar spine. This posture is common in lumbar spinal disorders and could contribute to lumbar disc pathologies, progression of L5–S1 spondylolisthesis deformities, and poor outcomes after lumbar spine surgery. In conclusion, anterior trunk translation in the standing subject increases extensor muscle activity and loads and stresses acting on the intervertebral disc in the lower thoracic and lumbar regions.


Posture Sagittal alignment Intervertebral disc Biomechanics Spinal load 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Deed E. Harrison
    • 1
  • Christopher J. Colloca
    • 2
    • 3
  • Donald D. Harrison
    • 4
  • Tadeusz J. Janik
    • 5
  • Jason W. Haas
    • 6
  • Tony S. Keller
    • 7
  1. 1.Ruby Mountain Chiropractic CenterElkoUSA
  2. 2.State of the Art Chiropractic CenterP.C.PhoenixUSA
  3. 3.Department of KinesiologyArizona State UniversityTempeUSA
  4. 4.Biomechanics LaboratoryUniversité du Québec à Trois-RivièresTrois RivièresCanada
  5. 5.Computational Mathematics Research ConsultantHuntsvilleUSA
  6. 6.Clinical Biomechanics of Posture of ColoradoWindsorUSA
  7. 7.Department of Mechanical EngineeringUniversity of VermontBurlingtonUSA

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