The 81st Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2012)


Vertebral cross-sectional properties –temporal trends and influence of physical activity

JUHO-ANTTI JUNNO1,2,5, MARKKU NISKANEN1, HELI MAIJANEN1,3, MIIKA T. NIEMINEN4, JAAKKO NIINIMÄKI4, JUHA TUUKKANEN5 and CHRIS RUFF2.

1Archaeology, University of Oulu, 2Functional Anatomy and Evolution, Johns Hopkins University, 3Department of Anthropology, University of Tennessee, 4Radiology, Oulu University Hospital, 5Anatomy and Cell Biology, University of Oulu

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Clinical studies suggest that the spinal column and vertebrae respond to biomechanical loadings in a similar manner as other weight-bearing elements. Vertebral size and strength are strongly correlated and spinal fractures are clearly associated with reduced vertebral size. In this study we investigated temporal differences in vertebral size parameters and the role of physical activity on them. We utilized three medieval archaeological samples from the UK (Blackgate and York) and Sweden (Westerhus), and a late prehistoric SW Amerindian sample (Puye). Terry and Bass skeletal collections were employed as modern day reference samples. In addition, a lumbar spine MRI clinical cohort (NFBC 1986) was utilized in a further attempt to clarify the role of physical activity on vertebral size. To estimate vertebral size we measured six height, width and length dimensions of the corpus of the 4th lumbar vertebra in both skeletal and MRI samples. Activity levels were assessed in two ways. For the skeletal samples, we determined midshaft femoral strength using pQCT scans or biplanar x-rays combined with external molding; increased femoral strength relative to body size was considered evidence of increased activity level. For the clinical MRI sample the activity information was based on answers to a questionnaire about individuals’ physical activities. Our results indicate that relative vertebral size has decreased temporally along with general “gracilization” of the skeleton. However, clear and unquestionable association between physical activity and relative vertebral size was not found; thus, further studies are needed to explain the observed temporal variation in vertebral properties.

This study was funded by National Science Foundation, grant number 064229, and Academy of Finland, grant number 127241.

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