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Open Access Technical Note

Determination of thoracic and lumbar spinal processes by their percentage position between C7 and the PSIS level

Markus J Ernst*, Fabian M Rast, Christoph M Bauer, Valentine L Marcar and Jan Kool

Author Affiliations

Zurich University of Applied Sciences, Institute of Physiotherapy, Research & Development, Technikumstrasse 71, 8401, Winterthur, Switzerland

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BMC Research Notes 2013, 6:58  doi:10.1186/1756-0500-6-58

Published: 11 February 2013



Accurate measurements of spinal movement require reliable determination of anatomical landmarks. Current methods of identifying these are not sufficiently reliable or valid for this purpose. A reliable and convenient method of placing markers on selected vertebra is needed to compare measurements between different testers, subjects and sessions.


Two testers palpated T4, T7, T10, L1 and L4 spinal processes according to established criteria. They measured the position of spinal processes between C7 and the Posterior Superior Iliac Spine (PSIS) at the Pelvis independently using a flexible ruler placed on the spine. Subjects with a wide range of body heights but without visible spinal deformities were recruited for measurements. Reliability was calculated using absolute and relative values. Mean percentage position and 95% Confidence Intervals were calculated using the mean of both testers’ measurement for all subjects.

Twenty-two subjects participated. The mean distance between C7 and the PSIS level was 50.9 cm (SD: 3.5 cm). Relative reliability for all spinal processes was almost perfect (ICC: > 0.9). Absolute reliability values showed high agreement between testers. Percentage position of T4 was found to be situated 21% along the distance between C7 and the PSIS level, T7 at 39%, T10 at 54.1%, L1 at 70.9% and L4 at 86.1% accordingly. 95% Confidence intervals around mean percentage positions had a maximum at L1 with 2.8% range from upper to lower limit.


The distance of three thoracic and two lumbar spinal processes can be reliably and accurately measured by independent testers, using a flexible ruler. Percentage positions between C7 and PSIS level correspond to spinal processes for subjects without visible deformities in the sagittal and frontal plane.

Manual palpation; Lumbar; Thoracic; Spinal process; Percentage position; Reliability; Flexible ruler