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The ratio of thoracic to lumbar compression force is posture dependent

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Despite the evidence suggesting that between 8% and 55% of manual labourers experience thoracic pain, research on spinal loading during occupational tasks has been almost invariably limited to the lumbar spine. In this study, we determined the ratio of thoracic to lumbar compression force and the relative risk of injury to each region in various postures. Compressive forces on the spine were calculated based on previously reported thoracic and lumbar intradiscal pressures and disc cross-sectional areas. Flexion postures were associated with an approximate doubling in lumbar compression force but only small increases (or even decreases) in thoracic compression. The ratio of thoracic to lumbar compression was above the tolerance ratio (i.e. the ratio of thoracic to lumbar compressive strength) during upright postures and below the tolerance ratio during flexion postures, indicating that upright postures may pose a greater relative risk of injury to the thoracic spine than to the lumbar spine.

Practitioner summary: Previously reported thoracic and lumbar in vivo disc pressures during various postures were compared. The ratio of thoracic and lumbar compression increased during upright postures and decreased in flexed postures, indicating that upright postures may pose a greater risk of injury to the thoracic spine than to the lumbar spine.
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Keywords: biomechanics; lumbar spine; manual material handling; spinal compression; thoracic spine

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Hayes and Associates, Inc., 301 SW 4th Street, Suite 160 Corvallis, OR, 97333, USA

Publication date: May 1, 2013

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