Technology Helps Explain Why Riders Say, ‘Oh, My Aching Back’

University of Kentucky researchers are investigating ways to quantify physical mechanics of the human spine during riding, including force, acceleration, and displacement.

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Riders often complain about lower back pain from riding, but gaps remain in our understanding of riding’s impact on the lumbar spine.

Thanks to a grant from the Central Appalachian Regional Education and Research Center, University of Kentucky researchers Kimberly Tumlin, PhD, MS, MPH, assistant professor of Preventive Medicine and Environmental Health, Athletic Training and Clinical Nutrition in the College of Public Health; Karin Pekarchik, senior extension associate for distance learning in the Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering; and Michael Sama, PhD, PE, associate professor of biosystems engineering, are using technology designed in-house to quantify physical mechanics of the spine during riding, including force, acceleration, and displacement.

In horse sports, the rider’s interaction with the horse magnifies movements and forces. The horse absorbs forces of approximately 2.5 times its bodyweight at a gallop (35-38 mph), with an average horse weighing more than 1,000 pounds. The rider’s body absorbs that energy, and baseline data on the subsequent effect on body biomechanics is lacking.

Sama, an engineer in the UK Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering, prototyped the dynamics sensor system (DSS), which enables the group to capture position, acceleration, and orientation data

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