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J Appl Physiol (1985). 2003 Apr;94(4):1410-20. Epub 2002 Dec 13.

Activation imbalances in lumbar spine muscles in the presence of chronic low back pain.

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  • 1NeuroMuscular Research Center, Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts 02215, USA.


Paraspinal electromyographic (EMG) activity was recorded bilaterally from three lumbar levels during 30-s isometric trunk extensions [40 and 80% of maximum voluntary contraction (MVC)] in 20 healthy men and 14 chronic low back pain patients in pain. EMG parameters indicating neuromuscular fatigue and contralateral imbalances in EMG root-mean-square amplitude and median frequency were analyzed. Patients in pain showed less fatigue than controls at both contraction levels and produced only 55% of their MVC. Patients in pain likely did not produce a "true" maximum effort. A low MVC estimate would mean lower absolute contraction levels and less neuromuscular fatigue, thus explaining lower scores in the patients. Contralateral root-mean-square amplitude imbalances were present in both categories of subjects although such imbalances, when averaged across lumbar levels, were significantly larger in patients. Median frequency imbalances were significantly larger in the patients, at segmental as well as across lumbar levels. These results suggest that the presence of pain in these patients caused a redistribution of the activation behavior between synergistic muscles of the lumbar back.

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