Spine Biomechanics Laboratory May Help Select the Best Treatments for Spine Disorders

Ram Haddas, PhD, and Isador H. Lieberman, MD, talk with SpineUniverse about this innovative lab that helps improve patient outcomes.

Written by Kristin Della Volpe

Individuals suffering with spinal disorders know well that the way they walk and move is altered because of their condition. The Spine Biomechanics Laboratory at Texas Back Institute (TBI) is helping patients understand exactly how spine conditions affect their movements and muscle activity, and quantifies how much improvement they have made following spine surgery and other treatments.

“We are able to tell you by how much your gait has improved, how your range of motion has increased, and how close you are to normal functioning,” explained Ram Haddas, PhD, who was recruited to initiate and build the Spinal Biomechanics Laboratory, which is the first spine-related human movement biomechanics lab to be incorporated within a private practice spine center in the United States. Dr. Haddas is Director of Research at the TBI Research Foundation in Plano, TX.

“We have the ability to quantify the successes of surgery. Yes, people usually feel much better after surgery and their pain level is reduced. But, we can show them how much they improved and how they function in comparison with healthy controls [ie, people without spine conditions],” Dr. Haddas said.

“It is important for patients to know how they are doing before and after surgery, and to see the improvement,” said Isador H. Lieberman, MD, Director of the Scoliosis & Spine Tumor Center at TBI.

What to Expect at a Visit to the Biomechanics Laboratory
People typically come to TBI one week before their scheduled spine surgery to be educated about the procedure, have blood work taken, and/or meet with a psychologist. If they have agreed to participate in one of the many ongoing research studies at TBI, the biomechanics laboratory is one of the stops that they make on this visit.

As part of the biomechanics assessment, small electrodes are taped to the skin over back and leg muscles (Pictured below). Participants are asked to walk 10 feet, stand for 1 minute, lift a box, move from a seated to standing position, and climb stairs. Cameras are positioned around the room that record leg, back, and joint motion, and the electrodes measure muscle activity.

“Then, patients come back to our laboratory at 3 months and 1 year after surgery so we can see how they have progressed,” Dr. Haddas. “Patients are working hard to get better and are eager to come back and see how far they have progressed. It is motivating,” Dr. Haddas added.

“People who participate in our research studies are appreciative that we spend so much time examining their posture and how they walk and move,” Dr. Haddas said. “We spend on average 1 hour one-to-one with patients, and are able to answer their questions and give them more information about their condition.”

“Patients are excited to see themselves on monitors and view how their muscles are working,” Dr. Haddas said.

Click Here to View Video of TBI’s Spine Biomechanics Laboratory

After surgery, the findings can be used to help fine tune physical therapy programs and help motivate patients to continue exercising.

Dr. Haddas and colleagues also are using the laboratory to gather data on how spine conditions affect the body, and to determine which treatment is best for a given condition. The researchers are actively studying patients with adult and pediatric scoliosis, cervical and thoracic myelopathy, chronic back and neck pain, sacroiliac joint dysfunction, as well as lumbar and cervical total disc replacements. In addition, they have published a variety of studies on these topics already, and hope that in the future, the research will help doctors select the best treatment for each person.