Background: Therapeutic exercises are widely used in the treatment of low back problems. Clinical knowledge about targeting the load in these exercises, however, is insufficient. This study assessed the L2 and L5 level paraspinal and gluteus maximus muscle activities in different therapeutic exercises. Intramuscular and surface electromyography (EMG) measurements were obtained to study whether surface EMG measurements can be used in the assessment of multifidus muscle function.
Methods: Eleven healthy subjects (5 men, 6 women) 21 to 38 years of age volunteered for the study. The subjects performed 18 different therapeutic exercises. During the exercises paraspinal EMG was recorded using fine wire and surface electrodes. The normalized peak and average muscle EMG activities (percentage of amplitude in maximal voluntary contraction [MVC]) during each task were determined.
Results: The correlations between the average intramuscular and surface activities of the normalized EMG (% of MVC) at the L2 and L5 levels were .928 and .950, respectively. The peak and average EMG amplitudes of the exercises were below 50% and 25% of MVC, respectively. At the L5 level, the multifidus peak and average EMG amplitudes (% MVC) were higher in women than in men, whereas no significant difference was found at the L2 level. In women, the normalized multifidus EMG amplitude was higher at the L5 level than at the L2 level, whereas no significant difference was found in men. In both sexes, the normalized EMG amplitude was higher in the multifidus than in the longissimus muscle.
Conclusion: Surface EMG measurements may be used in the assessment of multifidus muscle function. Simple therapeutic exercises are effective in activating the lumbar paraspinal muscles.