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Abdominal muscle activation increases lumbar spinal stability: Analysis of contributions of different muscle groups

      Abstract

      Background

      Antagonistic activation of abdominal muscles and increased intra-abdominal pressure are associated with both spinal unloading and spinal stabilization. Rehabilitation regimens have been proposed to improve spinal stability via selective recruitment of certain trunk muscle groups. This biomechanical analytical study addressed whether lumbar spinal stability is increased by such selective activation.

      Methods

      The biomechanical model included anatomically realistic three-layers of curved abdominal musculature, rectus abdominis and 77 symmetrical pairs of dorsal muscles. The muscle activations were calculated with the model loaded with either flexion, extension, lateral bending or axial rotation moments up to 60 Nm, along with intra-abdominal pressure up to 5 or 10 kPa (37.5 or 75 mm Hg) and partial bodyweight. After solving for muscle forces, a buckling analysis quantified spinal stability. Subsequently, different patterns of muscle activation were studied by forcing activation of selected abdominal muscles to at least 10% or 20% of maximum.

      Findings

      Spinal stability increased by an average factor of 1.8 with doubling of intra-abdominal pressure. Forcing at least 10% activation of obliques or transversus abdominis muscles increased stability slightly for efforts other than flexion, but forcing at least 20% activation generally did not produce further increase in stability. Forced activation of rectus abdominis did not increase stability.

      Interpretation

      Based on analytical predictions, the degree of stability was not substantially influenced by selective forcing of muscle activation. This casts doubt on the supposed mechanism of action of specific abdominal muscle exercise regimens that have been proposed for low back pain rehabilitation.

      Keywords

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