To quantify in vivo spinal motions and coupling patterns occurring in human subjects in response to mechanical force, manually assisted, short-lever spinal manipulative thrusts (SMTs) applied to varying vertebral contact points and utilizing various excursion (force) settings.


Triaxial accelerometers were attached to intraosseous pins rigidly fixed to the L1, L3, or L4 lumbar spinous process of 4 patients (2 male, 2 female) undergoing lumbar decompressive surgery. Lumbar spine acceleration responses were recorded during the application of 14 externally applied posteroanterior (PA) impulsive SMTs (4 force settings and 3 contact points) in each of the 4 subjects. Displacement time responses in the PA, axial (AX), and medial-lateral (ML) axes were obtained, as were intervertebral (L3-4) motion responses in 1 subject. Statistical analysis of the effects of facet joint (FJ) contact point and force magnitude on peak-to-peak displacements was performed. Motion coupling between the 3 coordinate axes of the vertebrae was examined using a least squares linear regression.


SMT forces ranged from 30 N (lowest setting) to 150 N (maximum setting). Peak-to-peak ML, PA, and AX vertebral displacements increased significantly with increasing applied force. For thrusts delivered over the FJs, pronounced coupling was observed between all axes (AX-ML, AX-PA, PA-ML) (linear regression, R(2) = 0.35-0.52, P <.001), whereas only the AX and PA axes showed a significant degree of coupling for thrusts delivered to the spinous processes (SPs) (linear regression, R(2) = 0.82, P <.001). The ML and PA motion responses were significantly (P <.05) greater than the AX response for all SMT force settings. PA vertebral displacements decreased significantly (P <.05) when the FJ contact point was caudal to the pin compared with FJ contact cranial to the pin. FJ contact at the level of the pin produced significantly greater ML vertebral displacements in comparison with contact above and below the pin. SMTs over the spinous processes produced significantly (P <.05) greater PA and AX displacements in comparison with ML displacements. The combined ML, PA, and AX peak-to-peak displacements for the 4 force settings and 2 contact points ranged from 0.15 to 0.66 mm, 0.15 to 0.81 mm, and 0.07 to 0.45 mm, respectively. Intervertebral motions were of similar amplitude as the vertebral motions.


In vivo kinematic measurements of the lumbar spine during the application of SMTs over the FJs and SPs corroborate previous spinous process measurements in human subjects. Our findings demonstrate that PA, ML, and AX spinal motions are coupled and dependent on applied force and contact point.

J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 2003 Nov-Dec;26(9):567-78. [PMID:14673406]

Author information: Keller TS, Colloca CJ, Gunzburg R. Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Vermont, Burlington, USA.