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Ergonomics. 2004 Mar 15;47(4):370-415.

Ergonomics and biology of spinal rotation.

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Ergonomics Research Laboratory, University of Alberta, 3v-v75 Corbett Hall Edmonton, AB Canada.


Spinal rotation, though being a very common motion of the body, is poorly understood. Furthermore, this motion and the extent of its development is unique to the human. Beyond the extent of its need in common activities, spinal rotation is a destabilizating motion for an inherently unstable structure. Spinal rotation has been argued to be an essential feature for an efficient bipedal gait. Also, it provides leverage to the upper extremities in delivering a forceful impact. An artificial restriction/elimination of spinal rotation resulted in significantly shorter stride length, slower walking velocity, and higher energy consumption in walking (p < 0.05). Spinal rotation also decreases the amount of force the spinal muscles can generate (to 25% of spinal extension). However, its extensive employment in industrial activities has been associated with 60.4% of back injuries. It is further stated that the amount of scientific information currently available is inadequate to biomechanically model the spinal response in a working environment. For example, when the spine is pre-rotated, a further rotation in the direction of pre-rotation decreases the force production significantly (p < 0.01) and increases the EMG activity significantly (p < 0.01) but the pattern changes with effort in the opposite direction. This and other properties (described in the paper) render biomechanical models inadequate. Muscle activation pattern and neuromotor behaviour of spinal muscles in flexion/extension and rotation of the spine are significantly different from each other (p < 0.01). The localized fatigue in different spinal muscles in the same contraction is significantly different and has been called differential fatigue. Finally, the trunk rotation, being pivotal for bipedal locomotion has brought many back problems to the human race.

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