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Understanding the biomechanical behaviour of the spine

Sonia is developing laboratory techniques to understand the response of the spine under physiological loading conditions.

Sonia Ramos Pascual holding the model of a human skeleton
Sonia Ramos Pascual holding the model of a human skeleton

Sonia Ramos Pascual is studying for a PhD in Mechanical Engineering. Originally from Madrid, Sonia completed her undergraduate studies at University College London (UCL). She moved to Bath to pursue her research interests in biomechanics.

‘I always had an interest in the human body. The organisation of our skeleton and muscles is fascinating from an engineering point of view.

‘As engineers we are trained to deconstruct big projects into small manageable steps’ says Sonia. ‘This is one of the fundamental principles of research. A good researcher is one that is not intimidated by the immensity of the task ahead’.

Researching spinal behaviour to better understand back pain

Sonia’s research aims to understand the behaviour of the spine under physiologic loading conditions and how this changes with disease. She is investigating how the different structures of the spine contribute to its overall mechanical properties. This involves a detailed study of the behaviour of the motion segment. This is the smallest mobile unit within the spine and is made up of two adjacent vertebral levels and the surrounding soft tissues.

‘I like the fact that my research will contribute to the understanding of the mechanical factors associated with back pain’.

To get results from her research, Sonia has used a bespoke simulator developed in the Department of Mechanical Engineering.

‘Using bespoke equipment can be a source of many headaches; however these are outweighed by the many advantages. First and foremost, the fact that you can hack into the machine and adapt it so it is ideally suited to the task to hand.'

Evaluating methods in spine biomechanics

A large part of Sonia’s research time has involved evaluating the research methods traditionally used in spine biomechanics. Collaborating with researchers from across the globe, she has advised on how to perform multi-axis testing of the spine (Holsgrove et al., 2018).1

‘There are times when you need to retrace every step you took to fix a problem. When, eventually, you find a solution you feel like you are on the top of the world!’
Sonia Ramos Pascual PhD in Mechanical Engineering

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1 Holsgrove, T., Amin, D., Pascual, S., Ding, B., Welch, W., Gheduzzi, S., Miles, A., Winkelstein, B. and Costi, J. (2018). The equivalence of multi-axis spine systems: Recommended stiffness limits using a standardized testing protocol. Journal of Biomechanics, 70, pp.59-66.