The effects of upper limb loading on spinal shrinkage during treadmill walking

H. Watson, Alan Simpson, P. E. Riches

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Introduction Everyday activities such as walking may elicit spinal shrinkage in an order of magnitude that has been related to lower back pain. The present study aims to compare the effects of unloaded treadmill walking with walking carrying loads representing everyday shopping tasks. Materials and methods Walking tasks were performed on seven healthy males and motion analysis was used to track four reflective markers at 100 Hz, dividing the spine into three segments. Static data was collected in 5-min intervals over a 30-min period. Results Total spinal length and lumbar segment decreased with respect to time (p < 0.001). Load affected the percentage length change at each spinal segment (p < 0.005), with the lumbar segment showing greatest height loss at the highest load. The upper and lower thoracic segments showed greater anterior lean with the heavier loads (p = 0.000) and the lumbar segment showed the opposite trend (p = 0.000). Conclusion Results suggest that the body adopts less anterior lean with an immediate load-bearing demand, to decrease the necessary extension moment generated by the spinal extensors for spinal stability. Further postural alteration in the same direction is observed with prolonged loading. In combination with lumbar spinal shrinkage, such postural changes are likely to increase the loading on the facet joints and subsequently unload the discs which may be beneficial for those with low back pain.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2688-2692
JournalEuropean Spine Journal
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2012


  • Spine
  • Biomechanics
  • Compression
  • Walking
  • Low back pain


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