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Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise:
CLINICAL SCIENCES: Clinically Relevant

EMG activity normalization for trunk muscles in subjects with and without back pain


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NG, J. K.-F., V. KIPPERS, M. PARNIANPOUR, and C. A. RICHARDSON. EMG activity normalization for trunk muscles in subjects with and without back pain. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc., Vol. 34, No. 7, pp. 1082–1086, 2002.

Purpose: The aims of the present study were to examine electromyographic (EMG) activity of six bilateral trunk muscles during maximal contraction in three cardinal planes and to determine the direction of contraction that gives maximal activation for each muscle, both for healthy subjects and back-pain patients.

Methods: Twenty-eight healthy subjects and 15 back-pain patients performed maximum voluntary contractions in three cardinal planes. Surface EMG signals were recorded from rectus abdominis, external oblique, internal oblique, latissimus dorsi, iliocostalis lumborum, and multifidus bilaterally. Root mean square values of the EMG data were calculated to quantify the amplitude of EMG signals.

Results: For both healthy subjects and back-pain patients, one single direction of contraction was found to give the maximum EMG signals for most muscles. Rectus abdominis demonstrated maximal activity in trunk flexion, external oblique in lateral flexion, internal oblique in axial rotation, and multifidus in extension. For the latissimus dorsi and iliocostalis lumborum, maximal activity was demonstrated in more than one cardinal plane.

Conclusion: This study has implications for future research involving normalization of muscle activity to maximal levels required in many trunk EMG studies. As the latissimus dorsi and iliocostalis lumborum demonstrate individual differences in the plane that gives maximal activity, these muscles may require testing in more than one plane.

©2002The American College of Sports Medicine


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