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September 30, 2011

COLUMBUS, Ohio – In an effort to reduce injury, decrease time away from work and minimize costs associated with treatment of lower back pain, Ohio State University Medical Center researchers are studying the condition which claims more than 100 million lost work days per year and costs Americans billions yearly in doctor’s visits, surgical procedures and therapeutics. 

A team of engineers, ergonomics and athletic training experts from Ohio State’s Center for Personalized Health Care are focusing on the most at-risk population for low back pain by enrolling 50 nurses from Ohio State’s Medical Center in a pilot study. In conjunction, the researchers seek to introduce a low back pain assessment system to Ohio State’s employee wellness program to identify those that could benefit from preventive care. 

"We are looking at the motion patterns of nurses, the extent of their back pain and routing them to the appropriate treatment modalities, such as physical therapy, education, workplace ergonomic interventions, or even surgery,” says William S. Marras, Honda Chair Professor, director of Ohio State’s Biodynamics Laboratory, executive director of the Institute for Ergonomics and faculty member in the department of Integrated Systems Engineering, both at Ohio State. “We are assessing ergonomics, tracking risk and providing nurses with education to minimize risk of low back pain. So, when they return to their work environment, they are more aware and can take preventive measures to decrease their risk for injury.” 

The study aims to introduce a more predictive model for low back disorders and determine personalized approaches to prevent injury, according to James Onate, associate professor in the School of Allied Medical Professions (SAMP) and co-director of the Sports Medicine Movement Analysis & Performance Research Program, both at Ohio State. “We are looking to identify who, within the nursing population, is most at-risk based on their history, exercise regimen and dietary considerations. By reviewing this information, as well as observing how people move and their patterns of acceleration we can intervene early and develop personalized plans,” he says. 

Nurses are being screened via questionnaires, evaluations of movement and specific testing, including the lumbar motion monitor (LMM) while playing spine-controlled video games. At Ohio State’s Biodynamics Laboratory, the researchers will utilize the LMM, which provides instantaneous, three-dimensional measurements of position, velocity and acceleration of the lumbar spine. The task is to flex and extend the trunk at maximum speed while playing a video game using the back. “We’ve developed personalized biomechanics models of the spine that combine an individual’s CT scan and MRI so we can better understand the forces on the various tissues of the spine,” Marras says. 

Low back pain is an activity-related movement disorder of the musculoskeletal system and can be debilitating. Many nurses experience strained backs, pulled muscles and missed work days due to various functions performed in their environment such as bending over the bed to administer treatment, checking a patient’s vitals, or lifting them out of the bed, often without assistance. 

“Low back pain is not just debilitating for the individual, but for the whole system. It impacts families and employers, and results in lost business and productivity as well as higher insurance costs,” Onate adds.                                              


Contact: Sherri Kirk, Center for Personalized Health Care, 614-366-3277, or