Ergonomics done right.®
May 16th, 2018

Ergo U: The Ohio State University: Causal Pathways of Spine Disorders

In the series Ergo U:  Ergonomics Research Notes from the Field, Humantech ergonomist Blake McGowan meets with ergonomics researchers from leading universities and associations across the country to share their latest findings.



Dr. William Marras

Field Notes:  Recently, Blake had the opportunity to meet with Professor Dr. William (Bill) Marras and colleagues from the Department of Integrated Systems Engineering at The Ohio State University. In addition, he is the executive director & scientific director of the Spine Research Institute, the executive director of the Center for Occupational Health in Automotive Manufacturing (COHAM), the executive director of the Institute for Ergonomics, and past president of the Human Factors & Ergonomics Society (HFES). The purpose of the visit was to learn more about Dr. Marras’ research on the causal pathways of spinal disorders, spine modeling, disorder prevention, patient health, and to tour their 3,500-square foot biodynamics laboratory. Blake was fortunate to see their video capture system with 74 cameras, series of force plates, electromyography system, and the work areas of his nine full-time staff members and graduate students.

Blake McGowan

Blake’s Take: “Wow! The Spine Research Institute Biodynamics Laboratory is a world-class center occupying the entire fifth floor of the Baker Systems Engineering Building. It is the most impressive environment, let alone research laboratories, I have ever visited. The quality of work being conducted and articles published is truly remarkable. The highlight was learning about the causal pathways of spine disorders. Not only are advances to better understand biomechanical factors of spine disorders being done, but so are studies to recognize individual and psychosocial factors that may influence these disorders. As a result, Dr. Marras has developed a person-specific, biologically-assisted modeling platform that provides personalized, preventive solutions to improve patient health.

Additional Activities: Blake also had the opportunity to discuss the laboratory’s latest research paper “Biomechanical evaluation of exoskeleton use on loading of the lumbar spine” with Dr. Gary Allread and Greg Knapik. The take home message is this: “For heavy lifting, use exoskeletons with caution. The wearable robotics don’t eliminate stress, they just shift it to other parts of the body.”

Expert: Dr. Marras’ (PhD: Wayne State University) research is centered on understanding the role of biomechanics in spine disorder causation and prevention, evaluation, and treatment measures. His research includes epidemiologic studies, laboratory biomechanics studies, mathematical modeling, and clinical studies.