The effect of muscle ageing and sarcopenia on spinal segmental loads



The interrelations between age-related muscle deterioration (sarcopenia) and vertebral fractures have been suggested based on clinical observations, but the biomechanical relationships have not been explored. The study aim was to investigate the effects of muscle ageing and sarcopenia on muscle recruitment patterns and spinal loads, using musculoskeletal multi-body modelling.


A generic AnyBody model of the thoracolumbar spine, including > 600 fascicles representing trunk musculature, was used. Several stages of normal ageing and sarcopenia were modelled by reduced strength of erector spinae and multifidus muscles (ageing from 3rd to 6th life decade: ≥ 60% of normal strength; sarcopenia: mild 60%, moderate 48%, severe 36%, very severe 24%), reflecting the reported decrease in cross-sectional area and increased fat infiltration. All other model parameters were kept unchanged. Full-range flexion was simulated using inverse dynamics with muscle optimization to predict spinal loads and muscle recruitment patterns.


The muscle changes due to normal ageing (≥ 60% strength) had a minor effect on predicted loads and provoked only slightly elevated muscle activities. Severe (36%) and very severe (24%) stages of sarcopenia, however, were associated with substantial increases in compression (by up to 36% or 318N) at the levels of the upper thoracic spine (T1T2–T5T6) and shear loading (by up to 75% or 176N) along the whole spine (T1T2–L4L5). The muscle activities increased for almost all muscles, up to 100% of their available strength.


The study highlights the distinct and detrimental consequences of sarcopenia, in contrast to normal ageing, on spinal loading and required muscular effort.

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This study was funded by a research grant from AOSpine International, Switzerland (Project CPP FFOB_OC_14).

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Correspondence to Dominika Ignasiak.

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Dominika Ignasiak, Waldo Valenzuela, Mauricio Reyes, and Stephen J. Ferguson declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Ignasiak, D., Valenzuela, W., Reyes, M. et al. The effect of muscle ageing and sarcopenia on spinal segmental loads. Eur Spine J 27, 2650–2659 (2018).

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  • Sarcopenia
  • Trunk muscles
  • Spinal loads
  • Biomechanical model