L. Danneels, P. Coorevits, A. Cools, G. Vanderstraeten, D. Cambier, E. Witvrouw, H. De Cuyper

July 2001, Volume 11, Issue 1, pp 13 - 19 Original Article Read Full Article 10.1007/s005860100314

First Online: 14 July 2001

The present study was carried out to examine possible mechanisms of back muscle dysfunction by assessing a stabilising and a torque-producing back muscle, the multifidus (MF) and the iliocostalis lumborum pars thoracis (ICLT), respectively, in order to identify whether back pain patients showed altered recruitment patterns during different types of exercise. In a group of healthy subjects (n=77) and patients with sub-acute (n=24) and chronic (51) low back pain, the normalised electromyographic (EMG) activity of the MF and the ICLT (as a percentage of maximal voluntary contraction) were analysed during coordination, stabilisation and strength exercises. The results showed that, in comparison with the healthy subjects, the chronic low back pain patients displayed significantly lower (P=0.013) EMG activity of the MF during the coordination exercises, indicating that, over the long term, back pain patients have a reduced capacity to voluntarily recruit the MF in order to obtain a neutral lordosis. In contrast, during the stabilisation exercises, no significant differences between patients and controls were found for the normalised EMG activity of the two muscles. These findings indicated that, during low-load exercises, no insufficiencies in back muscle recruitment were evident in either sub-acute or chronic back pain patients. During the strength exercises, the normalised activity of both back muscles was significantly lower in chronic low back pain patients (P=0.017 and 0.003 for the MF and ICLT, respectively) than in healthy controls. Pain, pain avoidance and deconditioning may have contributed to these lower levels of EMG activity during intensive back muscle contraction. The possible dysfunction of the MF during coordination exercises and the altered activity of both muscles during strength exercises may be of importance in symptom generation, recurrence or maintenance of low back pain.

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