Date of Award


Degree Type



Chemical and Biomedical Engineering

First Advisor

McLain, Robert

Subject Headings

Biomedical engineering, Musculoskeletal system, Robots, Robotics, Spine -- Research, Robot Robotics Musculoskeletal Pain Control Spine Cervical Engineering Neural Cadaveric, Testing


An influential conceptual framework advanced by Panjabi represents the living spine as a complex neuromusculoskeletal system whose biomechanical functioning is rather finely dependent upon the interactions among and between three principal subsystems: the passive musculoskeletal subsystem (osteoligamentous spine plus passive mechanical contributions of the muscles), the active musculoskeletal subsystem (muscles and tendons), and the neural and feedback subsystem (neural control centers and feedback elements such as mechanoreceptors located in the soft tissues) [1]. The interplay between subsystems readily encourages "thought experiments" of how pathologic changes in one subsystem might influence another--for example, prompting one to speculate how painful arthritic changes in the facet joints might affect the neuromuscular control of spinal movement. To answer clinical questions regarding the interplay between these subsystems the proper experimental tools and techniques are required. Traditional spine biomechanical experiments are able to provide comprehensive characterization of the structural properties of the osteoligamentous spine. However, these technologies do not incorporate a simulated neural feedback from neural elements, such as mechanoreceptors and nociceptors, into the control loop. Doing so enables the study of how this feedback--including pain-related--alters spinal loading and motion patterns. The first such development of this technology was successfully completed in this study and constitutes a Neuro-Musculoskeletal Simulator. A Neuro-Musculoskeletal Simulator has the potential to reduce the gap between bench and bedside by creating a new paradigm in estimating the outcome of spine pathologies or surgeries. The traditional paradigm is unable to estimate pain and is also unable to determine how the treatment, combined with the natural pain avoidance of the patient, would transfer the load to other structures and potentially increase the risk for other problems. The novel Neuro-Musculos