Stevens Undergraduates Present Research on Reducing Back Pain




January 22, 2013

Students to exhibit posters and results at two annual conferences

Lower back pain is the second most common cause of disability for adults in the United States. Faced with the rising number of individuals suffering from the condition, undergraduate students Emily Noonan and Hanna Sidoti at the Stevens Institute of Technology will be presenting their research on the effects of whole-body vibration on lower back pain at two major conferences in 2013.

“Emily and Hanna demonstrate how Stevens undergraduate students are conducting substantive research that strives for genuine societal impact,” says Dr. Michael Bruno, Dean of the Charles V. Schaefer, Jr. School of Engineering and Science.  “We congratulate Ms. Noonan and Ms. Sidoti on these accomplishments so early in their career, and we look forward to seeing what they achieve in the future.”

Emily and Hanna are presenting posters about their research at the annual meetings of the International Society for the Advancement of Spine Surgery (ISASS) and the Orthopaedic Research Society (ORS). The students conducted the research as part of the Stevens Innovation and Entrepreneurship Summer Research Program, under the direction and supervision of Dr. Antonio Valdevit, Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering. “Over the course of ten short weeks, Emily and Hanna were very productive, and their hard work resulted in important contributions to the field of orthopedics and have shed some light on possible causes related to low back pain,” says Dr. Valdevit.

Whole-body vibration is a growing concern, especially among those in the transportation and traffic industries such as truck drivers or helicopter pilots. Extensive exposure to whole-body vibration has harmful effects, particularly to the spine. The spine consists of individual bones called vertebrae that have small joints located between the disc and behind adjacent vertebrae called facet joints. These joints provide stability to the spine while preserving flexibility needed for mobility. The deterioration of facet joints can result in considerable back pain.  Emily and Hanna studied the response of facet joints in the lower back to elevated frequencies of vibrations.

Clearance Diagram

Diagram of a Facet Joint

The undergraduate scholars exposed bovine vertebrae, which are analogous to human vertebrae, to loading frequencies of 5Hz, 20Hz, 40Hz, and 80Hz. They then computed and analyzed the net deformation. The results provide a mechanical representation of the facet joint responses to high frequency vibration conditions and may be a basis for determining individuals who are at greater risk.

Emily and Hanna conducted the research together in the summer of their freshmen year. Emily Noonan’s interest in prosthetics led her to enroll at Stevens and explore the field of biomedical engineering.  “I am inspired by the opportunity to improve the quality of life for individuals who have lost a limb,” says Emily.

Hanna Sidoti is a biomedical engineering major and plans to attend medical school and work in the orthopedic field of sports medicine. “With this major, I will receive a more in-depth education. It will be very beneficial to study biomedical engineering to learn the mechanics within orthopedics,” says Hanna. As an active student athlete, she is also a member of the accomplished Stevens Varsity Women’s Soccer team.

Learn more about biomedical research at Stevens by visiting the Chemistry, Chemical Biology, and Biomedical Engineering Department website. Visit Undergraduate Admissions or Graduate Admissions to apply.


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