J Mech Behav Biomed Mater. 2023 Dec 7;150:106303. doi: 10.1016/j.jmbbm.2023.106303. Online ahead of print.
Underbody blasts (UBB) from mines and improvised explosive devices in military combat can cause debilitating spine injuries to vehicle mounted soldiers. Due to the exclusion of females in combat roles in prior US Department of Defense policy, UBB exposure and injury have predominantly affected male soldiers. Recent policy changes have opened many combat roles to women serving in the US Military (Carter, 2015) and have increased the need to understand the injury potential for female Warfighters. The goal of this study was to investigate the fracture response of adult female lumbar spines compared to adult male spines in UBB relevant loading to identify potential differences in either fracture mechanism or force. Results are presented for 15 simulated UBB spine compression tests using three small female (SF), five large female (LF), and seven mid-sized male (MM) post-mortem human subjects (PMHS). These PMHS groups align to 5th- and 75th-percentile female and 50th-percentile males, based on height and weight from the 2012 Anthropometric Survey of U.S. Army Personnel (Gordon et al., 2014). Both small females and large females (similar in size to the males) were included to assess the role of size and/or sex in the response. Tests were conducted at Virginia Tech on a cam-driven linear compression rig, which included a 6-axis load cell and ram accelerometer to evaluate the fracture. Fracture was visualized through high-speed x-ray video. All female and male spines exhibited similar fracture initiation at the end plates and progression through the vertebral body. The resulting severe compression and burst fractures were representative of reported theatre injuries (Freedman et al., 2014). Mean axial fracture forces were -4182 ± 940 N (SF), -6225 ± 1180 N (LF), -5459 ± 1472 N (All Females) and -7993 ± 2445 N (MM). The SF group was found to have statistically significant differences in mean fracture force compared to both LF and MM groups, while no significant difference was found between LF and MM groups, although the mean force at initial fracture was lower for the LF group. The All-Females group Fz mean was significantly different from the MM group. These data suggest that the significant difference in weight between the SF and LF groups, did have an influence on the Fz outcome, when controlling for sex. Conversely, controlling for size in the LF and MM comparison, sex did influence the mean Fz, but was not statistically significant. Groups with combined sex and size differences, however, did show significant differences in mean Fz. Further study is warranted to understand whether sex or size has a larger effect on fracture force. Mean ram displacement (spine compression) values at fracture initiation were -6.0 ± 5.3 mm (SF), -4.4 ± 0.8 mm (LF), -5.0 ± 3.0 mm (All Females), -6.2 ± 4.5 mm (MM). Spine compression did not seem to be largely influenced by either sex or size, and none of the groups was found to have significant differences in mean displacement values.