Lumbar erector spinae oxygenation during prolonged contractions: implications for prolonged work

Ergonomics. 2000 Apr;43(4):486-93. doi: 10.1080/001401300184369.


Owing to the recent interest in torso stabilization exercises together with many questions regarding the duration of prolonged isometric holds in occupational settings, the authors attempted to assess the level of back muscle oxygenation during prolonged isometric contractions. Specifically, this study recorded relative oxygen saturation of haemoglobin/myoglobin using Near Infrared Spectroscopy (NIRS) in the L3 erector mass during prolonged isometric contractions at intensities from 2 to 30% of maximum voluntary contraction (MVC). It was hypothesized that available oxygen to these muscles is severely compromised even at moderate levels of activation observed in occupational work. Eight volunteers without a history of lower back pain or injury participated in this study. The exercise task involved isometric contraction of the lower erector spinae at five different levels of each subject's maximal voluntary contraction: 2, 5, 10, 20 and 30% MVC, presented in random order. Subjects were placed in a sitting position, with a curved plastic plate secured horizontally to the pelvis to minimize movement at the hip joint. During extensor exertions, they were restrained with a harness that was attached at chest level to a load cell. Each isometric contraction was performed for 30 s followed by 1 min of rest. All levels of contraction demonstrated reduction in oxygen. Given the concern for motion artefact on the NIRS signal, sham trials were conducted where the subjects went through the procedure of attaching the pulling cable but no active pull was performed. These trials showed no change in the NIRS signal. At this time NIRS appears to be the only non-invasive instrumentation available to indicate total available muscle oxygen during low level, prolonged work. Although the specific tissue volume sampled by NIRS cannot be positively identified, it appears that tissue oxygenation in the lumbar extensor musculature is reduced as a function of contraction intensity, even at levels as low as 2% of MVC. These data have implications for prolonged work where postures requiring isometric contractions are sometimes held for hours, and where musculoskeletal illness has been linked to prolonged contraction levels above 2%MVC--these data suggest a possible biological pathway.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Controlled Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Electromyography
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Isometric Contraction*
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / physiology*
  • Male
  • Muscle, Skeletal / metabolism
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Oxygen / metabolism*
  • Spectroscopy, Near-Infrared
  • Task Performance and Analysis*


  • Oxygen