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Inefficient Muscular Stabilization of the Lumbar Spine Associated With Low Back Pain: A Motor Control Evaluation of Transversus Abdominis

Hodges, Paul W., BPhty(Hons); Richardson, Carolyn A., PhD


Study Design The contribution of transversus abdominis to spinal stabilization was evaluated indirectly in people with and without low back pain using an experimental model identifying the coordination of trunk muscles in response to a disturbance to the spine produced by arm movement.

Objectives To evaluate the temporal sequence of trunk muscle activity associated with arm movement, and to determine if dysfunction of this parameter was present in patients with low back pain.

Summary of Background Data Few studies have evaluated the motor control of trunk muscles or the potential for dysfunction of this system in patients with low back pain. Evaluation of the response of trunk muscles to limb movement provides a suitable model to evaluate this system. Recent evidence indicates that this evaluation should include transversus abdominis.

Methods While standing, 15 patients with low back pain and 15 matched control subjects performed rapid shoulder flexion, abduction, and extension in response to a visual stimulus. Electromyographic activity of the abdominal muscles, lumbar multifidus, and the contralateral deltoid was evaluated using fine-wire and surface electrodes.

Results Movement in each direction resulted in contraction of trunk muscles before or shortly after the deltoid in control subjects. The transversus abdominis was invariably the first muscle active and was not influenced by movement direction, supporting the hypothesized role of this muscle in spinal stiffness generation. Contraction of transversus abdominis was significantly delayed in patients with low back pain with all movements. Isolated differences were noted in the other muscles.

Conclusions The delayed onset of contraction of transversus abdominis indicates a deficit of motor control and is hypothesized to result in inefficient muscular stabilization of the spine.

From the Department of Physiotherapy, The University of Queensland, Australia.

Supported by the Menzies Foundation, Physiotherapy Research Foundation, Dorothy Hopkins Award, all in Australia.

Acknowledgment date: December 1, 1995.

First revision date: May 10, 1996.

Acceptance date: May 10, 1996.

Device status category: 7.

Address reprint requests to: Paul W. Hodges, BPhty(Hons); Department of Physiotherapy; The University of Queensland; Qld 4072; Australia

© Lippincott-Raven Publishers.