Assessments of spinal stiffness have become more popular in recent years as a noninvasive objective biomechanical means to evaluate the human spine. Studies investigating posteroanterior (PA) forces in spinal stiffness assessment have shown relationships to spinal level, body type, and lumbar extensor muscle activity. Such measures may be important determinants to discriminate between patients with low back pain (LBP) and asymptomatic subjects.


To determine the relationships between dynamic PA spinal stiffness and radiographic measures of lower lumbar disk height and disk degeneration.


L4 and L5 posterior disk height (PDH), vertebral body height (PVH), anterior disk height (ADH), and vertebral body height (AVH) were obtained from digitized plain film anteroposterior (AP) and lateral radiographs of 18 symptomatic LBP patients presenting to a chiropractic office (8 female patients and 10 male patients, aged 15-69 years, mean 44.3, SD 15.4 years). Disk degeneration (DD) and facet arthrosis (FA) were qualitatively assessed from the films by an independent examiner. Anterior disk height ratios (ADHR = ADH/AVH) and posterior disk height ratios (PDHR = PDH/PVH) were calculated from the disk height measurements and were compared to L4 and L5 posteroanterior spinal stiffness obtained using a previously validated mechanical impedance stiffness assessment procedure.


One third of the subjects were found to have radiographic evidence of mild or moderate DD and approximately two thirds of the subjects showed signs of mild or moderate FA. The L4 and L5 anterior disk height and posterior disk height were approximately one half and one fifth of the respective vertebral body heights, and the PA stiffness was greater at L4 than at L5. Male subjects had a greater ADHR than female subjects, but female subjects had a greater L4 and L5 PA stiffness in comparison to male subjects; however, these differences were not statistically significant. Posteroanterior L5 vertebral stiffness was found to be significantly correlated to the L5 PDHR.


Computations of spinal input impedance are relatively simple to perform, can provide a noninvasive measure of the dynamic mechanical behavior of the spine, appear to have potential to discriminate pathologic changes to the spine, and warrant further study on a larger sample of normal subjects and patients.

J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 2003 May;26(4):233-41. [PMID:12750657]

Author information: Colloca CJ, Keller TS, Peterson TK, Seltzer DE. New York Chiropractic College, Seneca Falls, NY, USA.