Musculoskeletal function and mechanobiology

Head: PD Dr. sportwiss. Dr. habil. med. Anna-Maria Liphardt

The research group investigates how rheumatic inflammatory diseases alter musculoskeletal function. One focus is the identification of functional and biochemical biomarkers for changes in disease activity and musculoskeletal homeostasis. In immobilization models (bed rest / microgravity) we investigate the effects of extreme reduction of mechanical stress on the musculoskeletal system without the additional effect of disease or injury.


The research group is concerned with the relationship between musculoskeletal function and skeletal morphology in the course of rheumatic-inflammatory diseases and as a consequence of immobilization. Tissues of the musculoskeletal system (e.g. bones, cartilage, muscles and tendons) are characterized by different tissue properties and a high adaptability. Loading by mechanical stimuli plays an essential role in the regulatory cycles of tissue adaptation. Morphological changes in the musculoskeletal system manifest themselves early in altered function, which in turn affects tissue health in the long term. Conversely, changes in tissue properties - triggered by pathogenic processes - can lead to changes in function.
In our projects, we use a combination of imaging techniques (e.g., magnetic resonance imaging, high-resolution peripheral quantitative computed tomography (HR-pQCT), biochemical parameters (blood and urine concentrations of biological markers), and functional parameters (e.g., muscular performance, physical activity, exercise analysis). A separate issue here is the optimization of the recording of functional parameters through the use of digital applications and modern sensor technology. Our research projects are characterized by integrative questions, which we work on in multidisciplinary teams consisting of internal and external research partners.

  • Research into movement patterns to objectify and optimize the recording of functional limitations of the hand in patients with the inflammatory-destructive joint diseases.

The central question of this sub-project in the CRC 1483 "EmpkinS - Empathokinetic Sensing" is to represent changes in hand function in high resolution as space-time parameters in relation to clinical parameters and also to predict internal states (reaction forces and stresses within a joint) with the help of simulation models (together with the Institute of Technical Dynamics (LTD), Prof. S. Leyendecker). We investigate which kinematic and kinetic parameters can be recorded by means of modern sensor technology and in which quality and are characteristic for the functionality of the hand. Subsequently, we aim to understand whether hand motion patterns allow prediction of changes in disease activity and explore whether structural changes in joints can be predicted by biomechanical models. To achieve this, we first collect information on patients' hand function in parallel with clinical data (disease activity, subjective disability level). For this purpose, leading classical functional tests (Moberg pick-up test and grip strength) as well as subjective interviews (Michigan Hand-Questionnaire) are performed. The clinical data on disease activity and function are supplemented with data from motion capture using optical measurement techniques together with the Institute of Technical Dynamics (LTD), Prof. S. Leyendecker.

  • Cartilage Health

Mechanical stress is essential for the maintenance of musculoskeletal function. Prolonged periods of immobilization due to bed rest or even a stay in microgravity lead to degradation and remodeling processes in the human body. Research in the space context here provides different study environments to investigate the effects of immobilization on the human body. In this context, we investigate how articular cartilage and cartilage metabolism adapt when subjects are immobilized for several days or weeks by bed rest or dry immersion, or have been on the International Space Station for several months. In close cooperation with the German Sport University Cologne, we collect data in these studies on the morphology of the knee joint and thigh musculature as well as blood and urine samples to determine biomarkers of cartilage metabolism.


Anna-Maria LiphardtResearch group leader
Birte CoppersScientific doctoral student
Eli-Tino GodonouScientific doctoral student
Doris HerbstStudy nurse



Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)
CRC 1483 "Hand Motion Patterns Derived from Empathokinaesthetic Sensor Data as a Diagnostic Parameter for Disease Activity in Patients with Rheumatic Diseases." (2021-2025)

Research grant (2009-2011)

Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action (BMWi) / Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt German Aerospace Center (DLR)
"Joint health during a 1-year mission to the International Space Station (ISS) - an assessment of relevance to exploration." (2020-2023)

Novartis Pharma GmbH
"Hand function as a biomarker for early detection of skeletal involvement in psoriasis patients." (2020-2022)

"Assessment of hand function and strength in psoriatic arthritis (PsA) / psoriasis (Pso) patients - influence of structural changes and inflammation." (2016-2018)

Pfizer Pharma GmbH
"Effects of physical activity level on biomarker of cartilage metabolism and volumetric bone density in ACPA-positive individuals without signs of arthritis compared to patients with established RA." (2015-2018)

ELAN-Program, Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nürnberg
"Physical activity in patients with rheumatoid arthritis and the effect of exercise intervention on disease progression." (2014-2015)


  1. Gabel L, Liphardt AM, Hulme PA, Heer M, Zwart SR, Sibonga JD, Smith SM, Boyd SK. (2022) Pre-flight exercise and bone metabolism predict unloading-induced bone loss due to spaceflight. Br J Sports Med. 56(4):196-203.
  2. Phutane U, Liphardt AM, Bräunig J, Penner J, Klebl M, Tascilar K, Vossiek M, Kleyer A, Schett G, Leyendecker S. (2021) Evaluation of optical and radar based motion capturing technologies for characterizing hand movement in rheumatoid arthritis - A pilot study. Sensors (Basel). 21(4):1208.
  3. Liphardt AM, Manger E, Liehr S, Bieniek L, Kleyer A, Simon D, Tascilar K, Sticherling M, Rech J, Schett G, Hueber AJ. (2020) Similar impact of psoriatic arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis on objective and subjective parameters of hand function. ACR Open Rheumatol. 2(12):734-740.
  4. Liphardt AM, Mündermann A, Heer M, Achtzehn S, Niehoff A, Mester J. (2020) Locomotion replacement exercise cannot counteract cartilage biomarker response to 5 days of immobilization in healthy adults. J Orthop Res. 38(11):2373-2382.
  5. Liphardt AM, Windahl SH, Sehic E, Hannemann N, Gustafsson KL, Bozec A, Schett G, Engdahl C. (2020) Changes in mechanical loading affect arthritis-induced bone loss in mice. Bone. 131:115149.
  6. Liphardt AM, Bolte V, Eckstein F, Wirth W, Brüggemann GP, Niehoff A. (2020) Response of thigh muscle cross-sectional area to 21-days of bed rest with exercise and nutrition countermeasures. Translational Sports Medicine. Volume 3, issue 2, Pages 93-106. doi: 10.1002/tsm2.122.
  7. Liphardt AM, Mündermann A, Andriacchi TP, Achtzehn S, Heer M, Mester J. (2017) Sensitivity of serum concentration of cartilage biomarkers to 21-days of bed rest. J Orthop Res. 36(5):1465-1471.
  8. Liphardt AM, Schipilow J, Hanley DA, Boyd SK. (2015) Bone quality in osteopenic postmenopausal women is not improved after 12 months of whole-body vibration training.Osteoporos Int. 26(3):911-20.
  9. Liphardt AM, Mündermann A, Koo S, Bäcker N, Andriacchi TP, Zange J, Mester J, Heer M. (2009) Vibration training intervention to maintain cartilage thickness and serum concentrations of cartilage oligometric matrix protein (COMP) during immobilization.Osteoarthritis Cartilage. 17(12):1598-603.
  10. Wakeling JM, Liphardt AM. (2006) Task specific recruitment of motor units for vibration damping. J Biomech. 39(7):1342-6.


PubMed publication list of Dr. Anna-Maria Liphardt