Feedforward responses of transversus abdominis are directionally specific and act asymmetrically: implications for core stability theories

J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2008 May;38(5):228-37. doi: 10.2519/jospt.2008.2703. Epub 2007 Dec 14.


Study design: Experimental laboratory study supplemented with a repeated case study.

Objective: To examine bilateral muscle activity of the deep abdominals in response to rapid arm raising, specifically to examine the laterality and directional specificity of feedforward responses of the transversus abdominis (TrA).

Background: Based on the feedforward responses of trunk muscles during rapid arm movements, authors have concluded that the deep trunk muscles have different control mechanisms compared to the more superficial muscles. It has been proposed that deep trunk muscles such as TrA contribute substantially to the stability of the lumbar spine and that this is achieved through simultaneous bilateral feedforward activation. These inferences are based on unilateral fine-wire electromyographic (EMG) data and there are limited investigations of bilateral responses of the TrA during unilateral arm raising.

Methods and measures: Bilateral fine-wire and surface EMG data from the anterior deltoid, TrA, obliquus internus (OI), obliquus externus, biceps femoris, erector spinae, and rectus abdominis during repeated arm raises were recorded at 2 kHz. EMG signal linear envelopes were synchronized to the onset of the anterior deltoid. A feedforward window was defined as the period up to 50 ms after the onset of the anterior deltoid, and paired onsets for bilateral muscles were plotted for both left and right arm movements.

Results: Trunk muscles from the group data demonstrated differences between sides (laterality), which were systematically altered when alternate arms were raised (directional specificity). This was clearly evident for the TrA but less obvious for the erector spinae. The ipsilateral biceps femoris and obliquus externus, and contralateral OI and TrA, were activated earlier than the alternate side for both right and left arm movements. This was a consistent pattern over a 7-year period for the case study. Data for the rectus abdominis derived from the case study demonstrated little laterality or directionally specific response.

Conclusion: This is the first study to show that the feedforward activity of the TrA is specific to the direction of arm movement and not bilaterally symmetrical. The asymmetry of TrA activity during arm raising suggests that the interpretation of the role of TrA as a bilateral stabilizer during anticipatory postural adjustments needs to be revised. Future research needs to examine muscle synergies associated with the asymmetrical function of the TrA and the underlying mechanism associated with low-load stability training.

Level of evidence: Therapy, level 5.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Abdominal Muscles / physiology*
  • Adult
  • Electromyography
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Muscle Contraction / physiology*
  • Quadriceps Muscle / physiology
  • Reference Values