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Spine Biomechanics Laboratory

The Spine Biomechanics Laboratory is housed in the Department of Orthopedic Surgery. As part of a program that is consistently ranked one of the nation's top orthopedics programs by U.S. News & World Report, the laboratory has access to world-class orthopedic care driven by high-quality research.

We study the effects of aging, tissue degeneration and altered biomechanics in the cervical and lumbar regions of the spine. Our main goal is to find an explanation to the elusive question of why back pain happens and how can we best help patients overcome it.

Our work

The laboratory works to measure changes in rotational and flexion/extension segmental movement associated with disc and facet degeneration comparing normal subjects and chronic low-back-pain subjects using and developing image-based biomechanics methods.

These in vivo relationships among disc degeneration, disc height, segmental movement, disc pressure and facet joint pressure are validated subsequently using cadaveric lumbar spines. Correlations between altered kinematics and load transmission are possible in vitro using our in-house developed hydraulic loading frame which allows continuous increase in torque in flexion/extension, lateral bending, and axial torsion.

We are also able to translate these positions into imaging settings to capture and analyze the features of the loaded spine. All these experimental methods are used to validate in silico studies conducted in collaboration with the Computational Biomechanics lab directed by Raghu Natarajan, PhD.


Image-Based Biomechanics

A large portion of our work is image based. We are driven by the access to newer imaging sequences in CT and MRI. Our work has led to new intellectual property aimed at developing analytical models from patient-specific image data. Image data works in conjunction with in vitro testing for dual validation of both the images and the in vitro models, as applicable.

Metrology and Additive Manufacturing

We have access to advanced metrology instrumentation such as a 3D laser scanner (NextEngine 2020i) and a coordinate measuring machine (Revware Microscribe M). Of course, the workflow would not be complete if we could not replicate the digital objects and make real parts out of them. We can do that with our stereolithography 3D printer (Full Spectrum Laser, Pegasus Touch).

Mechanical Testing

Testing for implants and kinematics of the spine is achieved via our pure moment attachment installed in an Instron servohydraulic testing frame (8874 Axial-Torsion Fatigue Testing System). When the spine moves actuated by the frame, its motion in space is captured via a motion analysis infrared tracking system using passive markers on the spine segments. With this we can describe the changes in biomechanics stemming from abnormal spine structures or the influence of implants to correct any spine condition.


We are grateful to the NIH for funding our scientific work:

  • NIH P01 AR 48152-10 – NIAMS
  • NIH R01 AT006692-01A1 – NCCIH


Dr Inoue -[Author]

Dr. Espinoza -[Author]

Dr. Natarajan -[Author]

Our team

Research faculty

Clinical faculty

  • Howard An, MD
  • Matthew Colman, MD
  • Gunnar Andersson, MD (Emeritus)

Current postdoctoral fellows

  • Yibo Zhao, MD, received a medical degree in clinical medicine from the Shanxi Medical University (Taiyuan, China), and master’s degrees in the same university. He is an attending doctor in the Spine Division, Department of Orthopaedic, The Second Hospital of Shanxi Medical University (Taiyuan, Shanxi province, China). His research interests include spine biomechanics, spine and spine cord injury.
  • Cheng-Li Lin, MD, received his medical doctor degree from the National Cheng Kung University (Tainan, Taiwan). He is a board-certified orthopaedic spine surgeon in Taiwan. He is now completing a postdoctoral fellowship at the Spine Biomechanics Laboratory at the Rush University  Medical Center (Chicago, Illinois, USA). He is an adjunct lecturer in the Dept. of Orthopedic Surgery at National Cheng Kung University (Tainan, Taiwan). His research interests include spine biomechanics and spine clinical studies.
  • Atsushi Urita, MD, PhD, is a research fellow in the Dept. of Orthopedic Surgery at Rush University Medical Center (Chicago, Illinois, USA). His research interests include joint biomechanics and cartilage biology. After obtaining his medical degree from Hirosaki University (Aomori, Japan), he continued on at Hokkaido University (Sapporo, Japan) for his Orthopedic Surgery residency and received a Philosophical doctorate at Hokkaido University. He followed this by attending the Division of Upper Extremity at Hokkaido University, where he was trained in advanced joint arthroscopy, shoulder and elbow arthroplasty, and hand surgery.

Graduate students

  • Jade He, BS, MSc (cand.) received her undergraduate degree in Bioengineering: pre-medical from the University of California—San Diego (La Jolla, California, USA) and has also completed two internships in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Doshisha University (Kyoto, Japan). She is currently a graduate student in Biomechanics at Rush University (Chicago, Illinois, USA). Her research interests include joint biomechanics, human motion, and exercise and sport science.

Contact us

We welcome inquiries about our research, collaborations and funding to the following: