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J Orthop Res. 1991 Jan;9(1):91-103.

Electromyographic activity of the abdominal and low back musculature during the generation of isometric and dynamic axial trunk torque: implications for lumbar mechanics.

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Department of Kinesiology, University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.


This study focused on the electromyographic activity of the trunk musculature, given the well-documented link between occupational twisting and the increased incidence of low back pain. Ten men and 15 women volunteered for this study, in which several aspects of muscle activity were examined. The first aspect assessed the myoelectric relationships during isometric exertions. There was great variability in this relationship between muscles and between subjects. Further, the myoelectric activity levels (normalized to maximal electrical activity) obtained from nontwist activities were not maximal despite maximal efforts to generate axial torque (e.g., rectus abdominis, maximum voluntary contraction; 22% external oblique, 52%; internal oblique, 55%; latissimus dorsi, 74%; upper erector spinae [T9], 61%; lower erector spinae [L3], 33%). In the second aspect of the study, muscle activity was examined during dynamic axial twist trials conducted at a velocity of 30 and 60 degrees/s. The latissimus dorsi and external oblique appeared to be strongly involved in the generation of axial torque throughout the twist range and activity in the upper erector spinae displayed a strong link with axial torque and direction of twist, even though they have no mechanical potential to contribute axial torque, suggesting a stabilization role. The third aspect of the study was comprised of the formulation of a model consisting of a three-dimensional pelvis, rib cage, and lumbar vertebrae and driven from kinematic measures of axial twist and muscle electromyograms. The relatively low levels of normalized myoelectric activity during maximal twisting efforts coupled with large levels of agonist-antagonist cocontraction caused the model to severely underpredict measured torques (e.g., 14 Nm predicted for 91 Nm measured). Such dominant coactivity suggests that stabilization of the joints during twisting is far more important to the lumbar spine than production of large levels of axial torque.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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