Rehabilitative ultrasound imaging is a valid measure of trunk muscle size and activation during most isometric sub-maximal contractions: a systematic review

Aust J Physiother. 2009;55(3):153-69. doi: 10.1016/s0004-9514(09)70076-5.


Questions: Is rehabilitative ultrasound imaging a valid measure of trunk muscle size and activation? Are rehabilitative ultrasound imaging measures sensitive to change?

Design: Systematic review of studies of criterion-related validity, construct validity, and sensitivity to change.

Participants: People with low back pain and asymptomatic controls.

Outcome measure: Trunk muscle size and activation measured by rehabilitative ultrasound imaging, MRI and/or EMG.

Results: 37 studies were included. 10 studies investigated criterion-related validity and provided evidence that while ultrasound may be a valid measure of trunk muscle size, the validity of ultrasound to quantify muscle activation is context-dependent, depending on the muscle involved, the contraction strategy utilised, and the intensity of muscle contraction. 23 studies provided evidence of construct validity by demonstrating the ability of ultrasound measurement to differentiate individuals in terms of back pain, anthropometry, and postures. Six studies contained a limited amount of information about sensitivity to change. CONCLUSIONS. It is valid to use rehabilitative ultrasound imaging to measure trunk muscle size and activation during most isometric sub-maximal contractions. Ultrasound measures appear sensitive to both positive and negative change.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Electromyography
  • Humans
  • Isometric Contraction*
  • Low Back Pain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Low Back Pain / physiopathology
  • Lumbosacral Region / diagnostic imaging*
  • Lumbosacral Region / physiopathology
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Muscle, Skeletal / diagnostic imaging*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiopathology
  • Thorax / diagnostic imaging*
  • Ultrasonography