European Spine Journal

, Volume 23, Supplement 1, pp 26–32 | Cite as

The lumbar spine has an intrinsic shape specific to each individual that remains a characteristic throughout flexion and extension

  • Anastasia V. Pavlova
  • Judith R. Meakin
  • Kay Cooper
  • Rebecca J. Barr
  • Richard M. Aspden
Original Article



We have previously shown that the lumbar spine has an intrinsic shape specific to the individual and characteristic of sitting, standing and supine postures. The purpose of this study was to test the hypothesis that this intrinsic shape is detectable throughout a range of postures from extension to full flexion in healthy adults.


Sagittal images of the lumbar spine were taken using a positional MRI with participants (n = 30) adopting six postures: seated extension, neutral standing, standing with 30, 45 and 60° and full flexion. Active shape modelling (ASM) was used to identify and quantify ‘modes’ of variation in the shape of the lumbar spine.


ASM showed that 89.5 % of the variation in the shape of the spine could be explained by the first two modes; describing the overall curvature and the distribution of curvature of the spine. Mode scores were significantly correlated between all six postures (modes 1–9, r = 0.4–0.97, P < 0.05), showing that an element of intrinsic shape was maintained when changing postures. The spine was most even in seated extension (P < 0.001) and most uneven between 35 and 45° flexion (P < 0.05).


This study shows that an individual’s intrinsic lumbar spine shape is quantifiable and detectable throughout lumbar flexion and extension. These findings will enable the role of lumbar curvature in injury and low back pain to be assessed in the clinic and in the working and recreational environments.


Lumbar spine shape Intrinsic shape Posture Shape modelling MRI 



We thank Mrs B. MacLennan (Research Radiographer) for acquiring the MR images, Mrs Baljit Jagpal (MRI Lead Superintendent) and Mrs B. MacLennan for consulting during imaging method optimisation. AVP is supported by a PhD studentship kindly donated by Roemex Ltd. to the Aberdeen Centre of the Oliver Bird Rheumatism Programme at the Nuffield Foundation.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that there is no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Anastasia V. Pavlova
    • 1
  • Judith R. Meakin
    • 2
  • Kay Cooper
    • 3
  • Rebecca J. Barr
    • 1
  • Richard M. Aspden
    • 1
  1. 1.Musculoskeletal Research Programme, Division of Applied Medicine, Institute of Medical SciencesUniversity of AberdeenAberdeenUK
  2. 2.Biophysics Research Group, College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences, Physics BuildingUniversity of ExeterExeterUK
  3. 3.School of Health Sciences, Faculty of Health and Social CareRobert Gordon UniversityAberdeenUK

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