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J Anat. 2008 Aug;213(2):173-82.

Abdominal muscle size and symmetry at rest and during abdominal hollowing exercises in healthy control subjects.

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Spine Center Division, Department of Research and Development, Schulthess Klinik, Zurich, Switzerland.


The symmetry of, and physical characteristics influencing, the thickness of the lateral abdominal muscles at rest and during abdominal exercises were examined in 57 healthy subjects (20 men, 37 women; aged 22-62 years). M-mode ultrasound images were recorded from the abdominal muscles at rest and during abdominal hollowing exercises in hook-lying. The fascial lines bordering the transvs. abdominis, obliquus internus and obliquus externus were digitized and the absolute thickness, relative thickness (% of total lateral thickness) and contraction ratio (thickness during hollowing/thickness at rest), as well as the asymmetry (difference between sides expressed as a percent of the smallest value for the two sides) for each of these parameters were determined for each muscle. Both at rest and during hollowing, obliquus internus was the thickest and transvs. abdominis the thinnest muscle. There were no significant differences between left and right sides for group mean thicknesses of any muscle; however, individual asymmetries were evident, with mean values for the different muscles ranging from 11% to 26%; asymmetry was much less for the contraction ratios (mean % side differences, 5-14% depending on muscle). Body mass was the most significant positive predictor of absolute muscle thickness, for all muscles at rest and during hollowing, accounting for 30-44% variance. Body mass index explained 20-30% variance in transvs. abdominis contraction ratio (negative relationship). The influence of these confounders must be considered in comparative studies of healthy controls and back pain patients, unless groups are very carefully matched. Asymmetries observed in patients should be interpreted with caution, as they are also common in healthy subjects.

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