A comparison of lumbar spine and muscle loading between male and female workers during box transfers

There is a clear relationship between lumbar spine loading and back musculoskeletal disorders in manual materials handling. The incidence of back disorders is greater in women than men, and for similar work demands females are functioning closer to their physiological limit. It is crucial to study loading on the spine musculoskeletal system with actual handlers, including females, to better understand the risk of back disorders. Extrapolation from biomechanical studies conducted on unexperienced subjects (mainly males) might not be applicable to actual female workers. For male workers, expertise changes the lumbar spine flexion, passive spine resistance, and active/passive muscle forces. However, experienced females select similar postures to those of novices when spine loading is critical. This study proposes that the techniques adopted by male experts, male novices, and females (with considerable experience but not categorized as experts) impact their lumbar spine musculoskeletal systems differently. Spinal loads, muscle forces, and passive resistance (muscle and ligamentous spine) were predicted by a multi-joint EMG-assisted optimization musculoskeletal model of the lumbar spine. Expert males flexed their lumbar spine less (avg. 21.9° vs 30.3-31.7°) and showed decreased passive internal moments (muscle avg. 8.9 % vs 15.9-16.0 %; spine avg. 4.7 % vs 7.1-7.8 %) and increased active internal moments (avg. 72.9 % vs 62.0-63.9 %), thus producing a different impact on their lumbar spine musculoskeletal systems. Experienced females sustained the highest relative spine loads (compression avg. 7.3 N/BW vs 6.2-6.4 N/BW; shear avg. 2.3 N/BW vs 1.7-1.8 N/BW) in addition to passive muscle and ligamentous spine resistance similar to novices. Combined with smaller body size, less strength, and the sequential lifting technique used by females, this could potentially mean greater risk of back injury. Workers should be trained early to limit excessive and repetitive stretching of their lumbar spine passive tissues.

Source: Gagnon, D., Plamondon, A. et Larivière, C. (2018). Journal of Biomechanics.
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbiomech.2018.09.017

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