Three-Dimensional In Vivo Measurement of Lumbar Spine Segmental Motion

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Study Design.

Fifteen asymptomatic volunteers were externally rotated and CT scanned to determine lumbar segmental motion.


To measure three-dimensional segmental motion in vivo using a noninvasive measurement technique.

Summary of Background Data.

Spinal instability has been implicated as a potential cause of low back pain, especially, axial rotational instability. Typically, flexion-extension lateral radiographs were used to quantify instability, but inaccurately measured translations and inability to capture out-of-plane rotations are limitations.


Using a custom-calibrated rotation jig, L1–S1 CT reconstructions were created of volunteers in each of 3 positions: supine and left and right rotations of the torso with respect to the hips. Segmental motions were calculated using Euler angles and volume merge methods in three major planes.


Segmental motions were small (<4° or 6mm) with the greatest motions seen in axial rotation (range, 0.6° to 2.2°), lateral bending (range, −3.6° to 3.0°), and frontal translation (−1.2mm to 5.4mm). Largest motions were in the levels: L1–L2 to L3–L4.


Complex coupled motions were measured due to external torsion and could be indicative of instability chronic patients with low back pain. The presented data provide baseline segmental motions for future comparisons to symptomatic subjects.

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