Trunk Muscle Characteristics of the Multifidi, Erector Spinae, Psoas, and Quadratus Lumborum in Older Adults With and Without Chronic Low Back Pain

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Cross-sectional study.


To determine whether there are differences in trunk muscle characteristics between older adults with and without chronic low back pain (LBP), while controlling for age, sex, and body mass index.


Muscle support for the trunk is provided by the multifidi, erector spinae, psoas, and quadratus lumborum. Trunk muscle characteristics may be altered with aging and/or chronic LBP. To date, most trunk muscle research has been conducted among younger adults. Given age-related muscle changes, such as reduced size and increased intramuscular fat, studies are needed in older adults, including those comparing older adults with and without LBP.


One hundred two older adults with (n = 53) and without (n = 49) chronic LBP were included. Cross-sectional area (CSA) measurements were taken by tracing inside the fascial borders on magnetic resonance images. Pixel intensity summaries were obtained to compute muscle-to-fat indices and relative muscle CSA, that is, CSA void of fat. Right/left averages for levels L2 through L5 were determined. Mixed-design analyses of covariance were used to test for differences between groups, based on LBP presence and sex, across levels (P≤.05).


Older adults with LBP had a greater average multifidus muscle-to-fat index (0.51 versus 0.49) and smaller average erector spinae relative muscle CSA (8.56 cm2 versus 9.26 cm2) when compared to control participants without LBP. No interactions between LBP status and average muscle characteristics were found for the psoas or quadratus lumborum (P>.05).


Up to 54% of older adult trunk muscle CSA may be fat. Women have smaller muscles and greater intramuscular fat (at lower spinal levels) than men.

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