Altered activity in the axioscapular muscles is considered to be an important feature in patients with neck pain. The activity of the serratus anterior (SA) and trapezius muscles during arm elevation has not been investigated in these patients. The objectives of this study was to investigate whether there is a pattern of altered activity in the SA and trapezius in patients with insidious onset neck pain (IONP) (n=22) and whiplash associated disorders (WAD) (n=27). An asymptomatic group was selected for baseline measurements (n=23). Surface electromyography was used to measure the onset of muscle activation and duration of muscle activity of the SA as well as the upper, middle, and lower trapezius during unilateral arm elevation in the three subject groups. Both arms were tested. With no interaction, the main effect for the onset of muscle activation and duration of muscle activity for serratus anterior was statistically significant among the groups. Post hoc comparison revealed a significantly delayed onset of muscle activation and less duration of muscle activity in the IONP group, and in the WAD group compared to the asymptomatic group. There were no group main effects or interaction effects for upper, middle and lower trapezius. This finding may have implications for scapular stability in these patients because the altered activity in the SA may reflect inconsistent or poorly coordinated muscle activation that may reduce the quality of neuromuscular performance and induce an increased load on the cervical and the thoracic spine.
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