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Journal of Orthopaedic Research

991-103 Raven Press, Ltd., New York


0 1991 Orthopaedic Research Society

Electromyographic Activity of the Abdominal and Low


Back Musculature During the Generation of Isometric and
Dynamic Axial Trunk Torque: Implications for
Lumbar Mechanics
Stuart M. McGill
Occupational Biomechanics Laboratory, Department of Kinesiology, University of Waterloo,
Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

Summary: This study focused on the electromyographic activity of the trunk


musculature, given the well-documented link between occupational twisting
and the increased incidence of low back pain. Ten men and 15 women volunteered for this study, in which several aspects of muscle activity were examined. The first aspect assessed the myoelectric relationships during isometric
exertions. There was great variability in this relationship between muscles and
between subjects. Further, the myoelectric activity levels (normalized to maximal electrical activity) obtained from nontwist activities were not maximal
despite maximal efforts to generate axial torque (e.g., rectus abdominis, maximum voluntary contraction; 22% external oblique, 52%; internal oblique,
55%; latissimus dorsi, 74%; upper erector spinae [T9], 61%; lower erector
spinae [L3], 33%). In the second aspect of the study, muscle activity was
examined during dynamic axial twist trials conducted at a velocity of 30 and
60/s. The latissimus dorsi and external oblique appeared to be strongly involved in the generation of axial torque throughout the twist range and activity
in the upper erector spinae displayed a strong link with axial torque and direction of twist, even though they have no mechanical potential to contribute
axial torque, suggesting a stabilization role. The third aspect of the study
was comprised of the formulation of a model consisting of a three-dimensional
pelvis, rib cage, and lumbar vertebrae and driven from kinematic measures of
axial twist and muscle electromyograms. The relatively low letels of normalized myoelectric activity during maximal twisting efforts coupled with large
levels of agonistTantagonist cocontraction caused the model to severely underpredict measured torques (e.g., 14 Nm predicted for 91 Nm measured).
Such dominant coactivity suggests that stabilization of the joints during twisting is far more important to the lumbar spine than production of large levels of
axial torque. Key Words: Low back mechanics-Lumbar electromyographyTrunk twisting.

ation of axial torsion are the result of muscular


force. These same muscle forces, however, impose
a tremendous amount of stress on the lumbar intervertebral joint due to their relatively small mechanical moment arm. For this reason, we report an investigation, consisting of several experiments, into
the muscular response during trunk twisting. There
are several features that make analysis of the musculature during twisting interesting and unique. For

The key to understanding the link between occupational twisting and the incidence of low back pain
is to elucidate the mechanisms that contribute to
twisting injury. Axial trunk twisting and the generReceived June IS, 1989; accepted March 20, 1990.
Address correspondence and reprint requests to Dr. S.
McGill, Occupational Biomechanics Laboratory, Department of
Kinesiology, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada N2L 3G1.

91

92

S.M . McGILL

example, there is no trunk muscle specifically designed to produce axial rotation because the generation of axial torque is coupled with the production
of either lateral bending or sagittal plane torque, or
both. While electromyographic investigations of
muscle activity have been performed during the
generation of isometric torque (17), the muscular
response throughout the twisting range of motion
remains poorly understood. Electromyography provides information, within certain limitations, about
the neural drive to various components of the musculature. In addition, such information on activation, combined with geometric modeling of the musculoskeletal tissues, constitutes a powerful tool to
increase functional understanding of the twisting
mechanism of the trunk and related injury.
The acquisition of electromyographic signals is
difficult, and the raw, unprocessed form of the signal possesses little information content. Often the
raw signal is rectified and low pass filtered (linear
envelope) (26) to forge a link between the raw muscle activation signal and force production. To further enhance physiologic interpretation, the signal
is often normalized to, or expressed as a percentage
of, the maximum electrical activity (MEA) obtained
during a static maximum voluntary contraction
(MVC). However, whereas voluntary efforts that
produce maximum myoelectric signals from some
muscles have been published (27), the method to
achieve maximum signals for normalization from
the trunk musculature remains to be established.
This is a critical issue for those models of the low
back that use myoelectric signals as neural drive to
the modeled muscles. This issue constitutes the first
aspect of this study.
The remaining aspects reported in this study deal
with muscle activation during twisting. The relationship between torque and myoelectric signal amplitude in the trunk has been addressed by several
researchers. Both Stokes et al. (23) and Vink et al.
(24) demonstrated linear and curvilinear electromyogram to isometric extensor torque relationships, whereas Seroussi and Pope (21) demonstrated a linear relationship for isometric holds of
extension efforts (2 = 0.96) and for the difference
between left and right erector spinae myoelectric
activity and the lateral bending torque (3= 0.95).
Pope et al. (18) demonstrated curvilinear relationships between the rectus abdominis, abdominal obliques, and erector spinae during the production of
isometric axial torque. However, several issues remain unanswered regarding the monitoring of mus-

J Orthop Res, Vol. 9, No. 1, 1991

cle activity during both isometric efforts and dynamic twists. For example, are there individual differences in muscle recruitment patterns indicative
of function, and which muscles should be monitored for activity in order to obtain reasonable documentation of the torsional-twisting mechanism of
the lumbar spine?
Several studies have attempted to identify muscle
function using various forms of the electromyogram
during twisting. Jonsson (6) noted that the erector
spinae was active during twisting and speculated
that such contractions were for torque production
and/or to provide a stabilizing component to the
spine. Morris et al. (15) documented similar coactivation in erector spinae under axial twisting conditions. Pope et al. (17) summarized that the issue of
relative activity of the trunk musculature during
twisting is unclear in the literature, but agreed that
the observed cocontractions in right and left side
muscles must contribute to spine stabilization. Certainly if large discrepancies in muscle activation and
cocontraction patterns are observed between subjects, it is unlikely that a single equivalent twistingaxial torque muscle could be found to represent
muscular contributions for use in simple models intended to estimate occupational joint loads.
Given the several contentious issues presented in
this introduction, the purposes of the present study
were (a) to find a method to obtain the maximum
myoelectric signal amplitude for normalization of
the trunk musculature, (b) to examine the myoelectric activity-axial torque relationship of various
trunk muscles, and (c) to combine myoelectric signal information with an analytical model in an effort
to increase insight into muscular axial torque production.
Thus, this paper reports a series of experiments
performed on the same group of subjects in an attempt to address these issues. Each subject performed the experiments in a single session so that
the electrodes were applied once and all instrumentation settings remained constant.
METHODS
Subjects

Ten men and five women were recruited from a


university student population (see Table 1 for subject data). An additional man participated in the
MVC portion of the study for a total of 1 1 men. All

EMG ACTIVITY OF TRUNK MUSCLES DURING TWISTING


TABLE 1. Subject data

N
Age (yr)
Height (cm)
Weight (kg)

Men
meadSD

Women
meadSD

10
2 1.218.5
173m . 7
71.417.7

5
2411.9
15914.2
53.316.7

subjects were healthy and had not experienced low


back pain for at least 1 year.
Instrumentation

Six pairs of bipolar, AgAgCl surface electromyogram (EMG) electrodes were attached to the skin
on the right side of the body: rectus abdominis, 3
cm lateral to the umbilicus; external oblique, approximately 15 cm lateral to the umbilicus; internal
oblique, below the external oblique electrodes and
just superior to the inguinal ligament; latissimus
dorsi, lateral to T9 over the muscle belly; thoracic
erector spinae, 5 cm lateral to T9 spinous process,
and lumbar erector spinae, 3 cm lateral to L3
spinous process. These electrode locations and arrangements have been shown to best represent the
differential muscle activity patterns and minimize
signal cross-talk between electrode pairs during
bending and twisting tasks (8). In addition, Vink et
al. (23) quantified cross-talk using 12 pairs of bipolar surface electrodes over the erector spinae group
during isometric contractions of 10, 20, 30, 40, 50,
60, 70, 80, 90, and 100% MVC. Using the crosscorrelation coefficient function, they demonstrated
that the absolute maximum in the correlation coefficient was less than 0.30 (or about 10% of common
signal) when electrode pairs were placed more than
30 mm apart. They concluded that, even at the
small distance of 30 mm between electrode pairs,
myoelectric signals are specific and optimize selective recording of localized muscle activity in the
erector spinae. The distance between the electrode
pairs reported in this study were always greater
than 100 mm.
All raw myoelectric signals were prefiltered to
produce a band width of 10-500 Hz and were amplified with a differential amplifier (common mode
rejection ratio of 80 dB at 60 Hz) to produce signals
of approximately 4 V.
A torsional dynamometer for the trunk was fabricated by removing the measurement head from a
Cybex I1 commercial isokinetic dynamometer. The

93

head was mounted on the wall approximately 2.5 m


above the floor with the sensing axle oriented vertically but pointing downward. A telescopic shaft of
approximately 0.6 m in length was fixed to the Cybex axle with a universal joint. An adjustable jig
harness was clamped to the upper torso at the
shoulder level of the subject and connected to the
telescopic shaft with a second universal joint. Handles were attached to the front of the shoulder jig
harness to provide additional stability and to standardize arm position.
The anterior-superior iliac spines of the pelvis
were fitted to a rigid fixator and secured by an adjustable belt around the waist of the standing subject. This prevented significant pelvic motion
throughout the experiments. Both the pelvic and
upper trunk harness arrangements were fully adjustable for variations in height and girth via the
telescopic construction. The subjects could apply
torque directly for the trunk to the Cybex measurement head, which eliminated a weak link in the
transmission of torque. The use of two universal
joints in the measurement linkage enabled free
movement of the trunk in all directions except axial
rotation. A photograph of a subject and dynamometer is shown in Fig. 1.

Tasks
There were three tasks to examine myoelectric
activity reported in this paper.
MVC Trials

The first objective was to select a method of exertion that would consistently produce the largest
amplitudes of myoelectric activity from selected
trunk muscles in order to provide a basis for normalization. Four basic isometric restraint strategies
were used in which subjects attempted to produce
maximum muscle activity (Fig. 2). Three trials of
each strategy were performed. The first strategy
consisted of the subject starting in a bent-knee situp posture with the feet restrained by a strap in an
attempt to recruit the abdominals. Hands were
placed behind the head and the trunk formed an
angle with the horizontal of approximately 30". An
assistant provided a matching resistance to the
shoulders during a maximum sit-up effort. The second method consisted of subjects leaning over the
edge of the test bench with the legs restrained.
While lying on the back supine, a flexor effort was

J Orthop Res, Vol. 9,No. I , 1991

S . M . McGILL

94

(cw) and counterclockwise (ccw) direction with the


trunk at 0" and prerotated + 30" and - 30" for a total
of 18 trials. Subjects were instructed to slowly build
up to maximum twisting effort, peaking at about 4
seconds.
Dynamic Twisting Efforts

Maximum effort dynamic twists were collected at


30"ls and 60'1s in both the cw and ccw directions.

Three trials of each condition were performed for a


total of 12 dynamic trials.
Data Reduction

FIG. 1. A subject positioned in the twisting jig where axial


torque and twisted position is measured by the cybex head
mounted overhead and EMG is recorded from rectus abdominis, external and internal oblique, latissimus dorsi, and
upper (T9) and lower (L3)erector spinae from the right side
of the trunk.

performed; while lying on the side, a lateral bend;


while lying on the stomach prone, an extensor effort. The third strategy entailed maximum isometric
exertions while standing in a restraint jig. The pelvis
was fixated with a strap against a padded bar, and
flexor, lateral bend, and extensor efforts were performed against a strap around the chest. The fourth
strategy was to examine muscle activity during the
maximum isometric twists, and if that activity exceeded the activity observed during any of the
MVC strategies, it was taken as 100% MVC for that
particular muscle.
Static Axial Twisting Efforts

Subjects performed three trials each of maximum


isometric axial twisting efforts both in the clockwise

J Orthop Res, Vol. 9, No. 1, 1991

Myoelectric, axial torque, and twist position signals were AID converted (12 bit resolution) at 1,000
Hz. The sample rate of 1,000 Hz was shown by
Lafortune (7) to have no effect on amplitude domain
processing, as was done in this study, and minimal
effect on frequency domain information. Indeed, he
found that the mean power frequency of raw myoelectric signals sampled at 8,192, 4,096, and 1,024
Hz was uneffected (140.8, 140.3, and 140.2 Hz, respectively). However, when the signal was sampled
at 512 Hz, a significant decrease was noted in the
mean power frequency (131.6 Hz).
The myoelectric signals were full wave rectified
and low pass filtered (single pass, Butterworth) at a
cutoff frequency of 3 Hz, and then normalized to
the maximum activity observed during the MVC
trials. The cutoff frequency of 3 Hz was chosen in
the following way. Olney and Winter (16) reported
the frequency response of the rectus femoris to be
between 1.0 and 2.8 Hz during walking, whereas
Milner-Brown et al. (13) reported approximately 3
Hz in the first dorsal interosseous. In addition, the
3 Hz cutoff produced an impulse response (time to
peak) of 53 ms which is compatible with the 30-90
ms contraction times reported by Buchthal and
Schmalbruch (1).
Torsion Model of the Trunk
Anatomical Description

A three-dimensional skeleton consisting of a rigid


pelvis, rib cage, and the five intervening lumbar
vertebrae was constructed using radiologic archives
of 50th percentile males. Attachments of muscles
and ligaments were observed on cadaveric speci-

EMG ACTIVITY OF TRUNK MUSCLES DURING TWISTING

95

standing

L
sit up

FIG. 2. Four methods were evaluated


to produce the maximum amplitude of
EMG for normalization: The restrained
sit-up effort (A); exertions while
hanging over the edge of the test table
(B); standing exertion against an upper trunk belt (C); and maximum twisting effort (D).

hanging

@-

flex

twist

@mens in the anatomy laboratory and located on the


appropriate bony surface. These locations were digitized and stored in computer memory. The crosssectional area of 50 selected muscle slips that cross
the L4/L5 joint was measured from multiple CT
scans of 13 men and these anatomic areas were converted to physiologic areas (force-producing areas)
by correcting for the cosines of those muscles that
did not present a true transverse section to the
plane of the scanner gantry (1 1) and taking into account fiber-tendon architecture.
Kinematics

The axial torque potential of the musculature was


modeled throughout the twisting range but only
compared with the measured torque values at 0.
Muscle lengths and unit vectors to describe lines of
action were calculated from three-dimensional absolute coordinates of origin and insertion.

F,

MS
x CS x K,
MSMEA

where F, = muscle force (N), K = force production per cross-section (N/cm2), CS = muscle crosssectional area (cm2), MS = myoelectric signal, and
MS,,A
= maximum myoelectric signal amplitude
observed during normalization contraction. Previous experiments suggested that the lumbar musculature produced force as a function of cross-section
at approximately 35 N/cm2 to 50 N/cm2 (10). These
values were well within the range reported in the
literature (3). Muscle forces were estimated in this
study assuming a force potential of 35 N/cm2. The
axial torque potential of each muscle was then calculated from the 3-D triple scalar product of muscle
force about the twisting axis of L4/L5. Estimates of
total torque were obtained from the sum of the agonist muscle forces. This process is described in the
matrix below.

Kinetics

Maximum muscle forces were estimated by multiplying the physiologic cross-sectional area by a
value of force production per cross-sectional area
according to equation 1 .

where: M = moment created by muscle about the


axis of axial twist, rxyz = absolute X, Y , Z components of the distance between the muscle line of

J Orthop Res, Vol. 9. No. I , 1991

S. M . McGILL

96

action and the joint center of rotation. Fxyz= the


component of the muscle force in the X, Y, Z direction, and UXyfthe unit vector describing the direction of the twisting axis.
RESULTS
The results are arranged under five subheadings
in accordance with the experiments conducted during this study of myoelectric activity during twisting
efforts.
Selection of a Method to Obtain Maximum Muscle
Activity for Myoelectric Signal Normalization
The lower erector spinae was the only electrode
location in which maximum activity was consistently obtained by the same method in all subjects:
"hanging" over the edge of the test table in a prone
posture and extending upward against resistance.
Whereas hanging over the edge of the test table
facing upward and flexing against resistance proved
to be the superior method for obtaining maximum
activity in rectus abdomis, no other muscle demonstrated consistent trends in the choice of the
method for obtaining maximum myoelectric activity. Perhaps this indicates differences in the way in
which individuals recruit the trunk musculature to
support both simple and coupled torques. The results for each muscle location are shown in Table 2
and the test postures are shown in Fig. 2.
Muscle Activity During Isometric Exertions
Mean muscle activity on the right side of the body
at the time of peak isometric torque generation is

shown in Table 3. Peak muscle activity was not


maximal, given that these trials were maximum
twisting efforts. For example, the greatest activity
observed during any isometric exertion was rectus
abdominis, 22% MVC; external oblique, 52%; internal oblique, 55%; latissimus dorsi, 74%; upper erector spinae, 61%; and lower erector spinae, 33%. It
appears that relative activity within a given muscle
is associated more with direction of rotation rather
than with starting position. This is consistent with
the fiber direction of an agonist muscle on one side,
which produces twist, versus its antagonistic counterpart on the other side of the body which opposes
the effort and has a lower activation level. Large
differences in activity between right and left sides
during isometric exertions at the 0" position were
observed in the obliques (28-50% MVC external,
55-16% MVC internal), latissimus dorsi (7415%
MVC), and the upper erector spinae (56-12%
MVC). Small differences were noted between sides
in rectus abdominals and the lower erector spinae.
Myoelectric Signal to Isometric Axial
Torque Relationship

No consistent linear or nonlinear EMG-torque


relationship was observed between subjects or
within trials of subjects. Although myoelectric signal amplitude generally increased with an increase
in torque, the ramp loading did not result in a
"smooth" progression of the myoelectric signal as
can be seen in four sample trials shown in Fig. 3.
However, examination of paired muscle activity
showed some relationship with direction of twist
effort. For example, the right latissimus dorsi dem-

TABLE 2. Method that produced maximum EMG at each electrode site


Muscle

Sex
(11 M, 5 F)

Rectus abdominis

Internal oblique

M
F
M
F
M

Latissimus dorsi

F
M

External oblique

Upper erector spinae


Lower erector spinae

F
M
F
M
F

Method
9 hang-flex, 1 sit-up, 1 stand-flex
4 hang-flex, 1 twist 30" cw
5 sit-ups, 2 hang-lat bends, 2 hang-flex, 1 stand-flex, 1 twist 30" cw
3 hang-lat bends, 1 hang-flex, 1 sit-up
3 stand-lat bends, 3 twists 30" cw, 2 twists 0" cw, 1 twist 30" cw, 1 hang-lat bend, 1
sit-up
2 hang-lat bends, 1 hang-flex, 1 twist 30" cw, 1 twist 0" cw
3 twists 30" cw, 2 twists 30" cw, 2 stand-lat bends, 1 hang-lat bend, 1 twist 0" cw, 1
twist 0" ccw, 1 stand-flex
2 twists 30" cw, 2 stand-lat bends, 1 twist 30" cw
4 hang-extend, 4 twists 30" cw, 1 twist 30" cw, 1 stand-lat bend
4 hang-extend, 1 twist 30" cw
11 hang-extend
5 hang-extend

See Fig. 1 for explanation of exertion methods.

J Orthop Res, Vol. 9, No. 1, 1991

EMG ACTIVITY OF TRUNK MUSCLES DURING TWISTING

97

TABLE 3. Peak torque and right side muscle activity expressed as a % MVC during isometric exertions

0" cw
M
F
0" ccw
M
F
+30" cwa
M
F
+ 30" ccw"
M
F
- 30" cw
M
F
- 30" ccw
M
F

Peak
torque
(N.m)

Rectus
abdominus

External
oblique

Internal
oblique

Latissimus
dorsi

Upper
erector
spinae

Lower
erector
spinae

87 (17)
39 (7)

16 (1 1)
14 (11)

28 (10)
21 (8)

55 (21)
37 (22)

64 (12)

56 (15)
46 (19)

33 (11)
23 (10)

95 (16)
41 (11)

15 (11)
21 (24)

50 (13)
32 (10)

16 (12)
16 (10)

15 (10)
17 (11)

12 (12)
7 (5)

26 (14)
8 (4)

62 (14)
25 (8)

10 ( 5 )
11 (10)

27 (13)
20 (9)

51 (20)
31 (18)

66 (17)
66 (19)

61 (17)
50 (23)

33 (15)
26 (11)

96 (18)
44 (5)

19 (16)
16 (15)

44 (18)
28 (12)

15 (11)
14 (4)

11 (7)
10 (5)

12 (14)
5 (3)

16 (7)
4 (2)

102 (18)
44 (7)

21 (13)
22 (26)

26 (10)
16 (6)

51 (18)
31 (16)

64 (16)
53 (19)

49 (17)
41 (24)

20 (12)
16 (7)

65 (17)
29 (8)

12 (10)
12 (13)

52 (18)
37 (14)

16 (15)
14 (7)

21 (14)
23 (16)

13 (15)
5 (4)

26 (14)
10 (9)

Values are the mean (males, 10 subjects x 3 trials for 30 observations; females, 5 subjects
deviation.
a + 30" corresponds to a prerotated twist that results from a cw twist.

onstrated a strong relationship with torque in the cw


direction but not in the ccw direction. Similar
paired differences may be observed in the obliques
and in the upper erector spinae, suggesting greater
involvement of these muscles in the twisting mechanism.

74 (13)

3 trials for 15 observations) and standard

responding low levels of activity were observed in


these muscles during ccw rotation, suggesting that
the erector spinae and latissimus dorsi must be involved in the twisting mechanism, although not specifically the generation of torque.
Model Results

Myoelectric Signals During Dynamic


Torque Production
The mean myoelectric signals (normalized to
100% MVC) over the range of twist for the 10 men
performing maximal efforts are shown in Fig. 4.The
electrodes were placed on the right side of the body.
It was interesting to observe that although subjects
were requested to produce a maximum twisting effort, rarely did any muscle exhibit activation levels
that exceeded 50% MVC. For ccw efforts the right
external oblique was the most active muscle, with
peak activation of approximately 50% MVC occurring at a position of -20", where peak torque was
produced prior to the 0" position. During cw rotations, the abdominal obliques (internal and external) demonstrated a large initial burst of activity but
leveled off at approximately 45% MVC (internal)
and 25% MVC (external) during 60"/s rotation. The
right upper erector spinae and right latissimus dorsi
demonstrated the largest constant levels of activity
throughout the range of cw rotation. However, cor-

The normalized myoelectric signals averaged


across the subjects, obtained during the maximum
effort isometric cw twist with the trunk in the neutral position, was input to the trunk model. First,
the myoelectric signal was normalized to the level
of maximum activity that was observed in any of
the test postures that were shown in Fig. 2.
Whereas 91 N.m of axial torque was measured from
the subjects, model output predicted that 26 N.m of
ccw torque was produced by the antagonist musculature and 40 N.m of cw torque was produced by
the agonists for a net of only 14 N.m cw torque.
These low levels of predicted torque were owing to
the relatively low levels of normalized myoelectric
signal used to estimate the force levels in the various muscle slips. Furthermore, in addition to relatively low activation levels, the coactivity observed
in pairs of muscles (i.e., those on the right side of
the trunk and its counterpart on the left side) produced antagonistic torque, which is subtracted from
the agonist torque, resulting in a reduced, exter-

J Orthop Res, Vol. 9, No. 1, 1991

S . M . McGILL

98
A

Internal oblique
V

75

External oblique

50

50

25

25

j'
f

0
0

25

50

25

50

Torque (N-m)

75

75

&

Tho:ocic erector spinoe

--t

Lumbar erector spmoe

50

50

25

25

25

50

25

50

25

50

FIG. 3. EMG-torque relationships for one subject (cw [A] and ccw [B]) and for another (cw [C] and ccw [D]). No consistent linear
or curvilinear relationships were observed. However, there is a relationship between muscle activity and the direction of twist
effort. (Continued)

nally measured, net torque. To address normalization concerns , a second normalization strategy was
adopted and tested. This involved normalizing the
average myoelectric signals to the maximum myoelectric signal amplitude observed only during maximal isometric twisting efforts in the neutral upright
standing posture. In other words, the myoelectric
signal amplitude produced during a twist was normalized to only a twisting effort. The model predicted that antagonists produced 58 N.m, whereas
the agonists produced 86 N.m for a net torque of 38
N.m. Some individual muscle forces are shown in
Table 4 for both normalization strategies.

J Orthop Res, Vol. 9, No. l , 1991

DISCUSSION
The task of finding a method that consistently
produced maximum myoelectric signals for all subjects proved difficult. While motivational factors
have been identified to alter torque measurements
during MVC efforts ( 5 ) the subjects in this study
were well aware of the importance to put forth a
maximum effort. In addition, it was felt that fatigue
was not a factor during the MVC tests due to the
brief duration of contraction effort. Hence, the inconsistency of results demonstrated the importance
of attempting several exertion tasks when a mea-

99

EMG ACTIVITY OF TRUNK MUSCLES DURING TWISTING

--)t

rx"

60

rt

40
-8-

External oblique

40

Rectus obdorntnls

tnternof oblique

20

20

"E

0
0

25

50

50

25

69

40

40

-+--t

$*

40

Thoroctc erector spmoe

Lotissirnus dorsi

20

20

20

25

50

25

50

25

50

FIG. 39

sure of maximum myoelectrical signal amplitude is


desired from the trunk musculature, i.e., there appears to be no single method that is best for all
subjects. Further, it is clear that commonly used
isometric extensor exertions in the standing posture
were inferior to other methods of obtaining maximum myoelectric activity; specifically, hanging
over the table edge and extending.
Observations of low levels of myoelectric activity
during maximal isometric twisting efforts may at
first appear perplexing but also have been noted by
Portnoy and Morin (19) and Carsloo (2). In this
study, the various methods used to obtain maximal
myoelectric activity increased the probability of full
muscle activation. In addition, expression of activity level as a percentage of MVC during twisting
tasks tends to result in lower levels of activation.

Nonetheless, our low values of activation were similar to those reported by Miller and Schultz (12) for
maximal twists (for example, they reported 13%
MVC, rectus abdominis; 18%, erector spinae at L3
for the right side during cw efforts; and 20% MVC,
rectus abdominis; 26%, erector spinae at L3 for ccw
efforts). Perhaps these low levels of activity indicate the presence of some form of inhibitory mechanism that serves a protective function to the spinal
tissues under stresses that are generated during axial torsion efforts. Perhaps these trunk muscles are
required to balance flexion-extension and lateral
bending moments and thus are limited in their contributions to axial torque. It was suggested by
Schultz et al. (20) that some muscles function to
counterbalance flexion and lateral bending moments that are produced by the primary axial torque

J Orthop Res, Vol. 9, No. 1, 1991

S. M . McGILL

100

50

-++

Exlernol oblique

J
t

25

50

75

50

25

50

25

7:

7:

Torque ( N - m )

75

25

50

75

25

50

75

25

50

75

FIG. 3C

generators such that maximum activation would not


be expected from these stabilizing muscles.
The myoelectric signal-torque relationship produced by our subjects during axial torsion efforts
were not as smooth as those published by Stokes et
al. (22) during isometric extension efforts. However, the extensor musculature has the primary
function of supporting extensor moments, whereas
no particular trunk muscle has a specific role to
support axial torque. Perhaps the increased variance in the myoelectric signal-torque relationship
indicated by the unsmooth lines in Fig. 3 during
the production of axial torque is indicative of a system that has freedom in the choice of muscle recruitment in order to generate axial torque. On the
other hand, to specificallygenerate extension, there
is no choice but to recruit the extensors. Examples
of both linear (9) and curvilinear (25) myoelectric
signal-torque relationships have appeared in the literature for various joints and muscles. Our data
show that both linear and curvilinear relationships
were produced in the trunk musculature, although
there was no consistency in either relationship between subjects or between muscles within a sub-

J Orthop Res, Vol. 9, No. 1, 1991

ject. However, because the relationships were


formed between an individual muscle and a measure of net axial torque that is the function of all
agonist and antagonistic muscles, speculation as to
the force output of an individual muscle is limited.
Nonetheless, such muscle activity may be indicative of axial torque contribution or alternatively
may function to increase stability while other muscles supply torque. Because the thoracic erector
spinae (longissimus thoracis pars thoracis and iliocostalis lumborum pars thoracis) have only very minor potential to contribute to lumbar axial torque
(as can be seen from the model results in Table 4)
but nonetheless demonstrate a strong link with axial
torque, they may be a prime candidate to function
in a stabilizing role. Furthermore, they can function
in this role over the entire lumbar spine because of
their thoracic insertion and extensor origin on the
sacrum and posterior aspects of the ilium. As such,
the stabilized lumbar joints form a more rigid structure upon which the primary twisting muscles can
produce greater amounts of torque.
The model output provided some insight into
muscular contribution to axial torque production.

EMG ACTIVITY OF TRUNK MUSCLES DURING TWISTING

101

0
0

25

50

75

I00

Torque (14-rn)

20.

0
25

75

50

\ 00

25

50

75

100

FIG. 3D

Using the different myoelectric signal normalization


strategies-one to normalize to the maximum
amount of activity observed in any trunk exertion
effort (Shown in Fig. 2) and the other to normalize
to that activity observed during an actual maximal
isometric twist exertion (20)-the resulting net
torque predictions were quite low (14 and 38 Nm,
respectively; 91 Nm was the actual measurement).
Perhaps the model musculature was underestimated
during our computed tomography (CT) scan and cadaver studies, although this was unlikely because of
the multiple scans and consideration of fiber pennation and fiber-tendon architecture. Perhaps the
model's assumption that muscle produces force as a
function of cross-sectional area at 35 N/cm is incorrect. If this force production potential were increased to 228 N/cm2 for normalization strategy
(Table 4, A) and 84 N/cm2 for strategy (Table 4, B),
then model predictions would match the measured
torque. Although values of force production of 98
N/cm2 were suggested by Fick (4) and 90 N/cm2 by
Morris (14) in muscles that act across the elbow and
knee, our previous work suggests that these values
are far too high for the trunk musculature (10). Although satisfying the axial torque requirement, such
large forces also would generate an unrealistic extensor moment because of the large area of the lumbar and thoracic components of longissimus thoracis and iliocostalis lumborum. For this reason it
would appear that normalization to the maximum

signal amplitude obtained-regardless of the isometric position-is necessary to satisfy the net
torque requirements about the three orthopaedic
axes in the low back. Perhaps the model is anatomically incorrect. However, the vector cosines and
moment arms of all muscles were checked in three
dimensions with CT scan and cadaveric data. It is
doubtful that anatomical inaccuracies would account for the discrepancies in measured and modeled torque. Such a large underprediction of net
torque suggests that other factors, as yet unknown,
influence axial torque production that are not incorporated into the model at this stage of model development.
_____

---__.__-

CONCLUSION
Since subjects exhibited variability in the posture
to obtain maximum muscle activity, it appears that
the use of several maximum exertion postures,
rather than a single posture, should be encouraged
when seeking maximum activity for myoelectric
signal normalization.
Myoelectric signal-axial torque relationships are
not always linear or nonlinear between muscles or
between subjects, although it should be noted that
the torque contribution of a single muscle cannot be
partitioned from other contributors during production of axial torque. Correspondingly, differences
between the right and left upper erector spinae during twisting in the cw and ccw directions, coupled

J Orthop Res, Val. 9, No. 1 , 1991

102

C,D

S . M . McGILL

80

80.

TORQUE

RA

+ RA

60 - -% EO

if

60

TORQUE

-+

EO

10

8-

10

LD

7C-

LD

*
4o -+UES
A LES

20 -

-#t0

TABLE 4. Model predictions of muscle force


Normalization (B)

Normalization (A)
Muscle

Activation
(% MVC)

Force
(N)

Torque
(N.m)

Activation
(% MVC)

Force
(N)

Torque
(N.m)

16
15

56
53

1
-1

100
83

350
291

-3

28
50

112
200

8
- 15

50
100

200
400

15
- 30

55
16

180
52

- 12

100
44

230
144

-21
9

74
15

104
21

-4
1

100
23

140
32

-6
1

56
12

353
76

-1
0

100
20

630
126

-2
0

33
26

932
733

3
2

100
70

2825
1978

-11
9

Rectus abdominis

R
L
External oblique
R

L
Internal oblique
R

L
Latissimus dorsi
R

L
Upper erector spinae"
R

L
Lower erector spinaeb
R

a For a maximal isometric twisting effort at 0" of twist, assuming two strategies for EMG normalization: (A) normalize to maximum
activity in any posture and (B) normalize to maximum activity observed in an isometric twisting effort.
R, right; L, left.
a Upper erector spinae is comprised of the thoracic portions of longissimus thoracis and iliocostalis lumborum.
Lower erector spinae is comprised of the pars lumborum components of longissimus thoracis and iliocostalis lumborum and
multifidus.

J Orthop Res, Vol. 9, No. 1 , 1991

EMG ACTIVITY OF TRUNK MUSCLES DURING TWISTING


with the fact that they have no real potential to
contribute axial torque, suggests that this group of
muscles performs a balancing and stabilizing role
while other muscles generate axial torque.
Muscle activity during maximum twisting efforts
is much lower than the activity during other activities, suggesting that either the trunk musculature is
inhibited during twisting efforts or that it is responsible for maintaining equilibrium about all axes and
therefore cannot fully activate just to supply axial
torque.
Modeling efforts to predict axial torque from myoelectric signals demonstrated the large counterproductive contributions of the cocontracting antagonistic musculature. Such dominant coactivity suggests that stabilization of the lumbar joints is
paramount because it is achieved at the expense of
axial torque production.
Acknowledgment: This work was funded by the Natural
Sciences and Engineering Research Council, Canada, and
the assistance of Sheri Lynn Kane during data collection
is appreciated.

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J Orthop Res, Vol. 9, No. I , 1991