Study design: Tissue blocks comprising muscle and bone from C5 to C7 segments were harvested at autopsy from 16 individuals ranging in age from 4 to 77 years. The prevertebral longus colli and postvertebral multifidus muscle pairs from one side in each individual were randomly selected for this study of muscle spindles.
Objectives: To determine muscle spindle distribution, morphology, and density for the longus colli and multifidus in caudal segments of the human cervical spine, and to assess whether changes are evident from infancy to old age.
Summary of background data: Age-related changes to the osteoligamentous framework of the cervical spine have been well documented. Postural modification accompanies these structural alterations, but there have been limited attempts to document whether muscle sustains a comparable level of morphologic alteration. Previous studies have examined muscle spindles in the neck muscles of various animal models and in a variety of isolated human muscles. However, most of these studies incurred bias through sampling and methodologic assumptions.
Methods: The longus colli and multifidus were resected between C5 and C7, and between left and right pairs selected randomly for spindle analysis. These vertebral segments were selected deliberately because they form the apex of the cervical lordosis and the site at which the greatest age-related modification occurs. The tissue was processed in paraffin, sectioned, and then stained by Masson's trichrome. Spindle characteristics were examined using light microscopy and analyzed by unbiased stereologic methods. A one-sample paired t test was used to ascertain whether the differences in spindle density between the two muscles were statistically significant.
Results: The longus colli has a high density of muscle spindles, which appear clustered and concentrated anterolaterally, away from the vertebral body. The multifidus has a low density of muscle spindles, which are found predominantly as single units concentrated closely to the vertebral lamina. No change in spindle distribution, morphology, and density were observed with age.
Conclusions: The current study examined spindle characteristics for an intrinsic neck muscle pair whose coactivation contributes to segmental stability of the cervical spine. The distribution and morphology of muscle spindles differ between the longus colli and the multifidus. In addition, these muscles have significant differences in terms of mean spindle density. Spindle characteristics represent one of many factors that govern proprioceptive regulation in skeletal muscle, and in neck muscles, the central connectivity of these receptors remains undefined. Therefore, although there are anatomic differences between the neck flexor and extensor, the functional implications of these differences are not clear. It is also of interest that spindle characteristics remain unchanged in these intrinsic muscles whose underlying segments are subject to age-related osteoligamentous changes.