Stability of the lumbar spine. A study in mechanical engineering

Acta Orthop Scand Suppl. 1989:230:1-54. doi: 10.3109/17453678909154177.


From the mechanical point of view the spinal system is highly complex, containing a multitude of components, passive and active. In fact, even if the active components (the muscles) were exchanged by passive springs, the total number of elements considerably exceeds the minimum needed to maintain static equilibrium. In other words, the system is statically highly indeterminate. The particular role of the active components at static equilibrium is to enable a virtually arbitrary choice of posture, independent of the distribution and magnitude of the outer load albeit within physiological limits. Simultaneously this implies that ordinary procedures known from the analysis of mechanical systems with passive components cannot be applied. Hence the distribution of the forces over the different elements is not uniquely determined. Consequently nervous control of the force distribution over the muscles is needed, but little is known about how this achieved. This lack of knowledge implies great difficulties at numerical simulation of equilibrium states of the spinal system. These difficulties remain even if considerable reductions are made, such as the assumption that the thoracic cage behaves like a rigid body. A particularly useful point of view about the main principles of the force distributions appears to be the distinction between a local and a global system of muscles engaged in the equilibrium of the lumbar spine. The local system consists of muscles with insertion or origin (or both) at lumbar vertebrae, whereas the global system consists of muscles with origin on the pelvis and insertions on the thoracic cage. Given the posture of the lumbar spine, the force distribution over the local system appears to be essentially independent of the outer load of the body (though the force magnitudes are, of course, dependent on the magnitude of this load). Instead different distributions of the outer load on the body are met by different distributions of the forces in the global system. Thus, roughly speaking, the global system appears to take care of different distributions of outer forces on the body, whereas the local system performs an action, which is essentially locally determined (i.e. by the posture of the lumbar spine). The present work focuses on the upright standing posture with different degree of lumbar lordosis. The outer load is assumed to consist of weights carried on the shoulders. By reduction of the number of unknown forces, which is done by using a few different principles, a unique determination of the total force distributions at static equilibrium is obtained.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Humans
  • Joints / physiology
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / physiology*
  • Models, Biological
  • Muscles / physiology
  • Posture
  • Reference Values