Research Article| Volume 22, ISSUE 9, P965-971, November 2007

An in vivo assessment of the low back response to prolonged flexion: Interplay between active and passive tissues



      Full flexion lumbar postures maintained over a prolonged period of time have been shown to lead to changes in the supporting passive structures of the spine and it has been hypothesized that this may lead to low back pain/disorders. However, the specific biomechanics and physiology of this link have not been fully developed. Of particular interest is the interplay between the active and passive extensor mechanisms and the role of rest break in this response.


      Ten healthy participants performed a regimen of a 10-min full lumbar flexion followed by a 10-min upright standing, with a slow speed isokinetic lift every 2.5 min. Changes in the full lumbar flexion angle (system creep) and the electromyographic activity of back extensors in the isokinetic lifts were evaluated.


      Results showed significant increases in the full flexion angle and increased activity of the extensor muscles in the prolonged flexion to compensate for the reduced extension moment producing capability of the passive tissues. A 30-s rest break in the middle of the flexion moderated these viscoelastic responses.


      The results suggest that prolonged lumbar flexion results in the systematic transfer of an extension moment from passive tissues to active muscles. Heavy lifting or high force exertion of back muscles immediately after prolonged flexion could be a risk factor for low back disorders when the muscles lose their force generating capacity due to passive stretching. This study also indicated the importance of sufficient rest between consecutive full flexion tasks in reducing the risk.


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