Changes in recruitment of the abdominal muscles in people with low back pain: ultrasound measurement of muscle activity

Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2004 Nov 15;29(22):2560-6. doi: 10.1097/01.brs.0000144410.89182.f9.


Study design: Ultrasound and electromyographic (EMG) measures of trunk muscle activity were compared between low back pain (LBP) and control subjects in a cross-sectional study.

Objectives: To compare the recruitment of the abdominal muscles (measured as a change in thickness with ultrasound imaging) between people with and without low back pain and to compare these measurements with EMG recordings made with intramuscular electrodes.

Summary of background data: Although ultrasonography has been advocated as a noninvasive measure of abdominal muscle activity, it is not known whether it can provide a valid measure of changes in motor control of the abdominal muscles in LBP.

Methods: Ten subjects with recurrent LBP and 10 matched controls were tested during isometric low load tasks with their limbs suspended. Changes in thickness from resting baseline values were obtained for transversus abdominis (TrA), obliquus internus (OI), and obliquus externus (OE) using ultrasonography. Fine wire EMG was measured concurrently.

Results: Study participants with LBP had a significantly smaller increase in TrA thickness with isometric leg tasks compared with controls. No difference was found between groups for OI or OE. Similar results were found for EMG. People with LBP had less TrA EMG activity with leg tasks, and there was no difference between groups for EMG activity for OI or OE.

Conclusions: This study reinforces evidence for changes in automatic control of TrA in people with LBP. Furthermore, the data establish a new test of recruitment of the abdominal muscles in people with LBP. This test presents a feasible noninvasive test of automatic recruitment of the abdominal muscles.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Abdominal Muscles / diagnostic imaging*
  • Abdominal Muscles / physiology*
  • Adult
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Electromyography / methods
  • Humans
  • Isometric Contraction / physiology*
  • Low Back Pain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Low Back Pain / physiopathology
  • Motor Activity / physiology
  • Recruitment, Neurophysiological / physiology*
  • Ultrasonography