A review of biomechanics of the central nervous system--Part III: spinal cord stresses from postural loads and their neurologic effects

J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 1999 Jul-Aug;22(6):399-410. doi: 10.1016/s0161-4754(99)70086-2.


Objective: To review literature pertaining to neurologic disorders stemming from abnormal postures of the spine.

Data collection: A hand search of available reference texts and a computer search of literature from Index Medicus sources was performed, with special emphasis placed on spinal cord stresses and strains caused by various postural rotations and translations of the skull, thorax, and pelvis.

Results: Spinal postures will often deform the neural elements within the spinal canal. Spinal postures can be broken down into four types of loading: axial, pure bending, torsion, and transverse, which cause normal and shear stresses and strains in the neural tissues and blood vessels. Prolonged stresses and strains in the neural elements cause a multitude of disease processes.

Conclusion: Four types of postural loads create a variety of stresses and strains in the neural tissue, depending on the exact magnitude and direction of the forces. Transverse loading is the most complex load. The stresses and strains in the neural elements and vascular supply are directly related to the function of the sensory, motor, and autonomic nervous systems. The literature indicates that prolonged loading of the neural tissue may lead to a wide variety of degenerative disorders or symptoms. The most offensive postural loading of the central nervous system and related structures occurs in any procedure or position requiring spinal flexion. Thus flexion traction, rehabilitation positions, exercises, spinal manipulation, and surgical fusions in any position other than lordosis for the cervical and lumbar spines should be questioned.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Central Nervous System / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Posture / physiology*
  • Spine / physiology*