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Quantifying Tissue Loads and Spine Stability While Performing Commonly Prescribed Low Back Stabilization Exercises

Kavcic, Natasa, MSc; Grenier, Sylvain, PhD; McGill, Stuart M., PhD

doi: 10.1097/01.brs.0000142222.62203.67
Occupational Health/Ergonomics

Study Design. A quantitative biomechanical comparison of seven different lumbar spine “stabilization exercises.”

Objectives. The purpose of this research was to quantify lumbar spine stability resulting from the muscle activation patterns measured when performing selected stabilization exercises.

Summary of Background Data. Many exercises are termed “stabilization exercises” for the low back; however, limited attempts have been made to quantify spine stability and the resultant tissue loading. Ranking resultant stability together with spinal load is very helpful for guiding clinical decision-making and therapeutic exercise design.

Methods. Eight stabilization exercises were quantified in this study. Spine kinematics, external forces, and 14 channels of torso EMG were recorded for each exercise. These data were input into a modified version of a lumbar spine model described by Cholewicki and McGill (1996) to quantify stability and L4–L5 compression.

Results. A rank order of the various exercises was produced based on stability, muscle activation levels, and lumbar compression.

Conclusions. Quantification of the calibrated muscle activation levels together with low back compression and resultant stability assists clinical decisions regarding the most appropriate exercise for specific patients and specific objectives.

Lumbar spine stability was quantified during different stabilization exercises. Spine kinematics, external forces, and torso EMG were input into various lumbar spine models to quantify spine stability and L4–L5 compression. A rank order was produced of the various exercises based on stability, muscle activation, and L4–L5 compression.

From the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.

Supported by the National Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

Acknowledgment date: April 11, 2003. First revision date: August 21, 2003. Acceptance date: November 17, 2003.

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

Federal 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 manuscript.

Address correspondence and reprint requests to Stuart M. McGill, PhD, Faculty of Applied Health Science, University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, N2L 3G1; E-mail:

© 2004 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.