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Lower Torso Muscle Activation Patterns for High-Magnitude Static Exertions: Gender Differences and the Effects of Twisting

Perez, Miguel A., MS; Nussbaum, Maury A., PhD


Study Design. Surface electromyographic signals were collected from 14 lower torso muscles while participants resisted high-magnitude static trunk moments applied in a variety of directions.

Objectives. To obtain a description of muscle activations in response to large moment magnitudes and axial twisting, including levels of agonistic and antagonistic muscle cocontraction. To assess differences in lower torso muscle activation patterns associated with gender and trial repetition.

Summary of Background Data. Back pain is associated with mechanical loads in the back. Biomechanical modeling of these loads is facilitated by knowledge of typical muscle activation patterns. Previous efforts in obtaining such data have often limited their scope to low-magnitude exertions or relatively simple scenarios.

Methods. Eight male and eight female participants, matched by height and mass, performed static exertions in an apparatus that immobilized their lower body while the activation levels of seven bilateral torso muscles were measured using surface electromyography. Activation patterns were analyzed to assess differences resulting from a variety of factors.

Results. No significant differences in activation patterns were found between genders or repetitions, but moment magnitude and direction elicited substantial differential responses. Good repeatability was found between trial repetitions, as indicated by intraclass correlation coefficients (>0.65). Significant synergistic muscle coactivation, large intersubject variability (mean coefficient of variation 82.2%), and consistent levels of antagonism ranging from 10% to 30% maximum voluntary exertions were observed.

Conclusions. Individuals of different genders, but similar anthropometry, have comparable muscular reactions to complex torso loads, suggesting similar motor control strategies. Future spine models should consider that the variability in muscle recruitment patterns is larger between subjects than within subjects. High-magnitude exertions, especially those with moment loads in more than one plane, require most muscles to be active (>5%) and moderate levels of antagonism.

From the Department of Industrial & Systems Engineering, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia.

Acknowledgment date: January 23, 2001.

First revision date: June 1, 2001.

Second revision date: September 24, 2001.

Acceptance date: December 13, 2001.

Address correspondence to

Maury A. Nussbaum, PhD

Grado Department of Industrial & Systems Engineering

250 Durham Hall (0118)

Virginia Tech

Blacksburg, VA 24061

The manuscript submitted does not contain information about medical device(s)/drug(s).

No funds were received in support of this work. No benefits in any form have been or will be received from a commercial party related directly or indirectly to the subject of this article.

© 2002 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.