Effect of load magnitude and distribution on lumbar spine posture in active-duty Marines

Rodríguez-Soto AE, Berry DB, Palombo L, Valaik E, Kelly KR, Ward SR.
Spine, 2017 42(5):345-351.


STUDY DESIGN: Repeated measures.
OBJECTIVE: The purpose of this study was to quantify the effect of operationally relevant loads and distributions on lumbar spine (LS) in a group of active-duty Marines.
SUMMARY OF BACKGROUND DATA: Low-back pain has been associated with heavy load carriage among military personnel. Although there are data describing the LS posture in response to load, the effect of varying load characteristics on LS posture remains unknown.
METHODS: Magnetic resonance images of Marines (n = 12) were acquired when standing unloaded and when carrying 22, 33, and 45 kg of load distributed both 50% to 50% and 20% to 80% anteriorly and posteriorly. Images were used to measure LS and pelvic postures. Two-way repeated-measures ANOVA and posthoc tests were used to compare LS posture across load magnitudes and distributions (α = 0.05). This project was founded by the US Army Medical Research Acquisition Activity, Award No. W81XWH-13-2-0043, under Work Unit No. 1310.
RESULTS: No changes in LS posture were induced when load was evenly distributed. When load was carried in the 20% to 80% distribution lumbosacral flexion increased as a result of sacral anterior rotation and overall reduced lumbar lordosis. This pattern was greater as load was increased between 22 and 33 kg, but did not increase further between 33 and 45 kg. We observed that the inferior LS became uniformly less lordotic, independently of load magnitude. However, the superior LS became progressively more lordotic with increasing load magnitude.
CONCLUSION: Postural adaptations were found only when load was carried with a posterior bias, suggesting that load-carriage limits based on postural changes are relevant when loads are nonuniformly distributed. Although the tendency would be to interpret that loads should be carried symmetrically to protect the spine, the relationship between postural changes and injury are not clear. Finally, the operational efficiency of carrying load in this distribution needs to be tested.

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