Alignment of the Lumbar Vertebrae in a Driving Posture


Dr. Robert D. Banks, Mr. John M. Martini, Dr. Harry L. Smith, Dr. Alfred P. Bowles, Dr. Thomas M. McNish, Dr. Richard P. Howard


Traffic Injury Prevention.  2000 September; 2(2):123-130


The purpose of this study was to define the anatomical arrangement of the lumbar spine in the mid-body sagittal plane of a human volunteer while in three postures: a driving posture; full flexion; and full extension. Radiographic images of the lumbar spine were made of a 33-year old 50th percentile male subject seated in a comfortable driving posture. Additional radiographs were made of the lumbar spine while the subject was postured in full voluntary flexion, and full voluntary extension. Anterior and posterior mid-sagittal vertebral endplate positions were plotted on an x-y coordinate system for each posture. Anterior and posterior disk thicknesses, and the positions of the centers of each vertebra were numerically determined using information from the plots. Disk thicknesses were then graphed and comparisons made for each posture. The arrangements of the centers of vertebrae were graphed and compared for the three different postures. The arrangement of the lumbar vertebrae tended toward that of full voluntary flexion while the subject was in a normal driving posture. Anterior disk thickness was a sensitive indicator of posture, while posterior disk thickness was not. While in a driving posture, the lower back approximated a straight-line that was nearly parallel to the seat back axis. The observations support those of an earlier study. Since soft tissue spinal elements can only be damaged by applying tensile forces in excess of their tolerance, the anterior elements of the lumbar spine would not be directly threatened in low velocity frontal collisions, since anterior elements would be in relative compression. Tension injury to the anterior structures as a result of a rear-end collision would first require reversing the preimpact conditions imposed by the normal driving posture. Tension injury to the posterior spinal elements resulting from low velocity rear-end collisions would be unlikely since axial compression loading would also diminish tension stress in posterior soft tissue structures. Any compression injury to posterior elements resulting from rear-end collisions would first require reversing the pre-impact conditions imposed by the normal driving posture.

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