Background: The prone leg extension (PLE) is a clinical test used to evaluate the function of the lumbopelvis. It has been theorized that a normal and consistent pattern of muscle activation exists. Previous research has found two contradictory patterns of muscle activation during PLE in normal individuals. One study shows an almost simultaneous activation of the lower erector spinae and hamstring muscle group with a delayed activation of the gluteus maximus, while the second describes the order of activation being ipsilateral erector spinae (to the leg being extended), hamstrings, contralateral erector spinae and gluteus maximus. Due to the different conclusions from these two studies and the lack of quantified muscle onset times, expressed in absolute time this study attempted to quantify the muscle onset times (in milliseconds) during the prone leg extension, while noting if a consistent order of activation exists and whether a timing relationship also exists between the gluteus maximus and contralateral latissimus dorsi.
Methods: 10 asymptomatic males (Average height: 175.2 cm (SD 6.5), Average Weight 75.9 kg (SD 6.5), Average Age: 27.1(SD 1.28)) and 4 asymptomatic females (Average height 164.5 (SD 2.9), weight: 56.2 (SD 8.9), Average Age: 25 (SD 1)) performed the prone leg extension task while the myoelectric signal was recorded from the bilateral lower erector spinae, gluteus maximus and hamstring muscle groups. Activation onsets were determined from the rectified EMG signal relative to the onset of the hamstrings muscle group.
Results: No consistent recruitment patterns were detected for prone leg extension among the hamstring muscle group and the erector spinae. However, a consistent delay in the Gluteus Maximus firing of approximately 370 ms after the first muscle activated was found. Five out of 14 asymptomatic subjects showed a delay in gluteus maximus firing exceeding the average delay found in previous research of subjects considered to have a dysfunctional firing pattern.
Conclusion: A consistent pattern of activation was not found. Variability was seen across subjects. These findings suggest the PLE is not sufficient for a diagnostic test due to the notable physiological variation. An overlap between normal and potentially abnormal activation patterns may exist.