Robotic testing to beat lower back lifting injuries

Flinders researchers will use cutting edge robotic testing, computer models and microstructural examination in a bid to understand what causes spinal disc injuries during lifting after prolonged periods of sitting and standing.

In a unique research project funded by a Flinders Foundation Health Seed Grant, Flinders University Associate Professor John Costi and team will take CT and MRI scans of lumbar spines from deceased persons, to allow patient-specific computer models to be developed.

The spines will be placed in a unique hexapod robot testing machine, where varied sitting and standing simulations will occur, followed by excessive lifting to simulate failed spinal discs. MRI scans will be taken to link to clinical observations of similar injuries, and microscopic imaging will then be used to identify how the discs have failed.

With back pain the foremost cause of disability worldwide, a cause of chronic pain and depression, and costing tens of billions to Australia each year, A/Prof Costi said it was important to advance research into how lumbar disc injuries occur and help develop strategies to reduce injury risk and improve treatment for back pain.

Many Australians spend their workday mostly sitting, or mostly standing. Common sitting and standing postures are linked to lower back pain and its related problems, however their role as a possible precursor to lifting injuries has not been studied.

The new knowledge arising from this research project will offer a unique opportunity for Flinders researchers to contribute to human health by identifying causes of injury to lumbar spinal discs and develop strategies to reduce the risk of these injuries. This could include possible revision of recommended physiological guidelines for prolonged sitting and standing strategies and subsequent lifting.

Researchers from The University of Adelaide, Royal Adelaide Hospital, Queensland University of Technology and University of Auckland are collaborating with Associate Professor Costi on this project.

Lower back pain and related problems arising from lifting injuries are a significant burden on society…our findings will underpin better prevention and treatment measures for these injuries.


Project title: A multi-scale study of the mechanisms underpinning intervertebral disc herniation after prolonged sitting and standing.

Lead researcher: Associate Professor John Costi

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