Trunk Muscle Co-contraction Increases During Fatiguing, Isometric, Lateral Bend Exertions: Possible Implications for Spine Stability

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Study Design.

Surface electromyographic activities were recorded from bilateral trunk muscles as test participants maintained a 50% maximum, voluntary, isometric, lateral bend contraction to volitional exhaustion.


To challenge the trunk with a prolonged lateral bend task and observe the responses of the agonist and antagonist muscles to the resulting fatigue.

Summary of Background Data.

Lateral bend exertions of the trunk have been identified as a risk factor for injury to spine tissues. However, little is known about the response of spine muscles to fatigue and the subsequent implications for spine stability, joint loading, and tissue injury. Surface electromyography provides a window on muscle loading and progressive fatigue.


Eleven male participants performed a set of maximum lateral bend exertions at the start of the trial, then maintained an upright standing posture while resisting 50% of the maximum moment until volitional exhaustion, then performed another set of maximum contractions. All contractions were isometric. Measurements were made, throughout each contraction, of the lateral bend moment and abdominal and trunk extensor electromyographic activities at six bilateral surface electromyography sites. Electromyographic amplitude and mean power frequency were calculated with 500-millisecond segments recorded serially every 800 milliseconds. Mean values were calculated with data from the first and last 5% of the trial durations. Statistics determined if fatigue had a significant effect on maximum moment and the electromyographic statistics for each muscle site.


Fatigue resulted in a significant decrease in maximum lateral bend moment and increase in moment variability. Decreases in mean power frequency, indicating fatigue, were observed in three agonists (the trunk extensors) and one antagonist muscle. Unfatigued agonist electromyographic amplitudes correlated well with the mechanical advantage of muscles to generate lateral bend moments. Unfatigued antagonist activities were low except for the thoracic erector spinae. The agonists and antagonists demonstrated average increases of 17% and 8%, respectively, when pooled across muscles. Much of this change was predicted to have been associated with increases in co-contracting muscle forces.


The trunk responded to a prolonged, lateral bend contraction by increasing co-contraction as agonist trunk muscles fatigued. It was proposed that the fatigue compromised neural coordination and that the co-contraction served to maintain spine stability.

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