Side loading, also known as lateral loading, is an issue that affects the operation and lifespan of compression springs. For engineers working with spring systems, understanding its origins, impacts, and mitigation methods is crucial. While springs are mainly designed for vertical loads, certain conditions can lead to sideways force or side loading. This is frequently a result of incorrect spring installation which results in unwanted lateral forces. This article provides a comprehensive analysis of side loading in compression springs along with practical strategies for engineers to reduce its occurrence and impact. However, do keep in mind that the frequency and effect of side loading may vary based on the specific environment and application of the spring.

How Side Loading Originates

Side loading on a compression spring occurs when there is a mismatch between the direction of applied force and the spring's main axis. This misalignment can result from different sources. Typed incorrectly, as in the case where the influence is not oriented along the main axis, but rather obliquely. This can be observed when a car's spring-based suspension system is installed off-center, which can cause the car's weight to distribute unevenly, causing side loading on the spring.

Unsymmetrical loading is another source of side loading. When different forces act on various sections of the spring, it can direct the load away from the main axis. For example, a spring guide designed incorrectly could allow forces away from the axis, leading to side loading.

Engines should give a check to the spring's ends, often referred to as the bases. They should be designed to be parallel to the spring's axis to prevent the creation of side load. For example, in a valve system fitted with a compression spring, incorrect paralleling of the spring's ends can induce side loading upon use.

The compacting or expanding rate of a spring can also lead to side loading. If the rate of distortion doesn't match the spring's natural frequency, it may direct the load away from the main axis. This situation arises when the spring's expansion or compression doesn't follow the designed rate and creates a side load.

To put it simply, to prevent side loading, engineers should align the spring correctly during the install, prevent unsymmetrical loading, and correctly parallel the spring's bases. Furthermore, the spring's compacting and expanding rate should be thoroughly observed to avoid off-axis loads that can cause side load.

Side Effects of Side Loading

Side loading can result in distortion in compression springs, which is typically displayed as buckling or bowing out. This consequence transpires when transverse forces disrupt the stability of the spring. This instability appears because the spring is designed primarily to handle axial forces. A common instance can be observed in automotive vehicles. The shock absorbers in these vehicles utilize compression springs that are engineered to bear vertical compressive force. If lateral side loads are exerted, the spring may buckle or bow out, affecting shock absorption and potentially impacting surrounding components.

Another effect of side loading is irregular stress distribution on the spring. This results in increased wear in specific areas. The concentrated, high-stress points expedite wear, which in turn shortens the spring's service life and requires more frequent maintenance.

Additionally, a side load on a spring can reduce the force output and travel of the spring. To illustrate, imagine a valve that is controlled by a compression spring. The spring is designed to operate under a particular force. If a side load is applied, it could obstruct the spring's compressive operation and cause the valve to malfunction.

Side loading can also cause unpredictable behaviour in a spring. This unpredictability is challenging especially in precision machinery applications where consistent operation is required.

Side Loading Prevention & Mitigation

Reduction of side loading on a compression spring hinges on accurate design and alignment. Two factors in the design system are of importance. First, ensure that the spring seats are orthogonal to the spring's axis. Second, maintain the load in alignment with the spring's central axis. For example, consider an industrial press, where the exerted force is vertical. In this case, correct alignment maintains even compression and stress distribution.

In many industrial settings, off-axis loading happens and cannot be avoided. A practical solution is the introduction of guides to inhibit buckling of the compression spring. Guides help regulate the spring's motion and ensure even load distribution. This strategy lowers the potential for spring buckling.

Modifications to the spring's design can assist in diminishing side loading. These modifications may include an increase in the spring's outer diameter (OD), a decrease in the wire diameter, or a reduction in free length. However, it's important to note that these modifications will have an impact on other spring attributes. For example, a larger OD can curtail side loading, but it may also consume more assembly space or restrict space for other components.

For long-term prevention of side loading, consistent inspection and maintenance are crucial. Regular upkeep activities facilitate early detection and correction of off-axis forces. For instance, in a car suspension system, frequent checks may reveal premature wear due to side loading forces. If detected early, adjustments or replacements can help prevent potential damage.


Handling side loading on a compression spring involves not only optimizing the spring's operation but also extending its lifespan. This is achieved by analyzing the reasons for side load, the impact it has, and ways to mitigate it. Control of side loading can be achieved through correct alignment and load application, apt design modifications, and regular upkeep. Grasping the concept of side loading is fundamental for engineers as it contributes to the longevity and dependability of spring systems.