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J Appl Physiol (1985). 2008 Apr;104(4):1192-201. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00794.2007. Epub 2008 Jan 10.

A new method for the noninvasive determination of abdominal muscle feedforward activity based on tissue velocity information from tissue Doppler imaging.

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Spine Center Division, Department of Research and Development, Schulthess Klinik, Z├╝rich, Switzerland.


Rapid arm movements elicit anticipatory activation of the deep-lying abdominal muscles; this appears modified in back pain, but the invasive technique used for its assessment [fine-wire electromyography (EMG)] has precluded its widespread investigation. We examined whether tissue-velocity changes recorded with ultrasound (M-mode) tissue Doppler imaging (TDI) provided a viable noninvasive alternative. Fourteen healthy subjects rapidly flexed, extended, and abducted the shoulder; recordings were made of medial deltoid (MD) surface EMG and of fine-wire EMG and TDI tissue-velocity changes of the contralateral transversus abdominis, obliquus internus, and obliquus externus. Muscle onsets were determined by blinded visual analysis of EMG and TDI data. TDI could not distinguish between the relative activation of the three muscles, so in subsequent analyses only the onset of the earliest abdominal muscle activity was used. The latter occurred <50 ms after the onset of medial deltoid EMG (i.e., was feedforward) and correlated with the corresponding EMG onsets (r = 0.47, P < 0.0001). The mean difference between methods was 20 ms and was likely explained by electromechanical delay; limits of agreement were wide (-40 to +80 ms) but no greater than those typical of repeated measurements using either technique. The between-day standard error of measurement of the TDI onsets (examined in 16 further subjects) was 16 ms. TDI yielded reliable and valid measures of the earliest onset of feedforward activity within the anterolateral abdominal muscle group. The method can be used to assess muscle dysfunction in large groups of back-pain patients and may also be suitable for the noninvasive analysis of other deep-lying or small/thin muscles.

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