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Advanced Multi-Axis Spine Testing: Clinical Relevance and Research Recommendations

Timothy P. Holsgrove, PhD,1 Nikhil R. Nayak, MD,2 William C. Welch, MD,2 Beth A. Winkelstein, PhD1

1Department of Bioengineering, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, 2Department of Neurosurgery, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA


Back pain and spinal degeneration affect a large proportion of the general population. The economic burden of spinal degeneration is significant, and the treatment of spinal degeneration represents a large proportion of healthcare costs. However, spinal surgery does not always provide improved clinical outcomes compared to non-surgical alternatives, and modern interventions, such as total disc replacement, may not offer clinically relevant improvements over more established procedures. Although psychological and socioeconomic factors play an important role in the development and response to back pain, the variation in clinical success is also related to the complexity of the spine, and the multi-faceted manner by which spinal degeneration often occurs. 

The successful surgical treatment of degenerative spinal conditions requires collaboration between surgeons, engineers, and scientists in order to provide a multi-disciplinary approach to managing the complete condition. In this review, we provide relevant background from both the clinical and the basic research perspectives, which is synthesized into several examples and recommendations for consideration in increasing translational research between communities with the goal of providing improved knowledge and care.

Current clinical imaging, and multi-axis testing machines, offer great promise for future research by combining in-vivo kinematics and loading with in-vitro testing in six degrees of freedom to offer more accurate predictions of the performance of new spinal instrumentation. Upon synthesis of the literature, it is recommended that in-vitro tests strive to recreate as many aspects of the in-vivo environment as possible, and that a physiological preload is a critical factor in assessing spinal biomechanics in the laboratory. A greater link between surgical procedures, and the outcomes in all three anatomical planes should be considered in both the in-vivo and in-vitro settings, to provide data relevant to quality of motion, and stability.

spine, biomechanics, multi-axis, Spine surgery
Volume 9 Article 34 - Biomechanics Special Issue