Effects of Axial Torsion on Disc Height Distribution: An In Vivo Study

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Axial rotation of the torso is commonly used during manipulation treatment of low back pain. Little is known about the effect of these positions on disc morphology. Rotation is a three-dimensional event that is inadequately represented with planar images in the clinic. True quantification of the intervertebral gap can be achieved with a disc height distribution. The objective of this study was to analyze disc height distribution patterns during torsion relevant to manipulation in vivo.


Eighty-one volunteers were computed tomography–scanned both in supine and in right 50° rotation positions. Virtual models of each intervertebral gap representing the disc were created with the inferior endplate of each “disc” set as the reference surface and separated into 5 anatomical zones: 4 peripheral and 1 central, corresponding to the footprint of the annulus fibrosus and nucleus pulposus, respectively. Whole-disc and individual anatomical zone disc height distributions were calculated in both positions and were compared against each other with analysis of variance, with significance set at P < .05.


Mean neutral disc height was 7.32 mm (1.59 mm). With 50° rotation, a small but significant increase to 7.44 mm (1.52 mm) (P < .0002) was observed. The right side showed larger separation in most levels, except at L5/S1. The posterior and right zones increased in height upon axial rotation of the spine (P < .0001), whereas the left, anterior, and central decreased.


This study quantified important tensile/compressive changes disc height during torsion. The implications of these mutually opposing changes on spinal manipulation are still unknown.

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