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Chiropractic Research Review

Is Electromyography Sufficient for Estimating Spinal Compression?

The potential relationship between back problems and heavy manual labor has stimulated attempts to measure compressive spinal loading under workplace conditions. However, the "gold standard" measurement of spine compressive loading (introducing a long, pressure-sensitive needle into the lumbar intervertebral discs of live subjects) is invasive and prone to limitations, especially considering that it cannot be performed during dynamic motions where loading occurs the most.



This study analyzed compressive loading of the spine using three noninvasive techniques: electromyography, movement analysis and force-plates. Eight male subjects lifted boxes (weighing 6.7 kg and 15.7 kg, respectively) off the ground. During lifting, subjects were measured for electromyographic activity of the erector spinae muscles; results were compared to force generated during static contractions. In addition, a computer-mediated motion analyzer and force plate system monitored subjects' activities to assess spinal loading.

Results: Both techniques predicted peak extensor moments similarly, equivalent to spinal compressive forces of 2.9-4.8 kilohm. The authors suggest that simple electromyographic techniques based on recordings of trunk muscle activity are suitable for the assessment of dynamic loading in the workplace, but add that force-plate data would improve accuracy during lifts characterized by a strong upward thrust.

Dolan P, Kingma I, Van Dienn J, et al. Dynamic forces acting on the lumbar spine during manual handling: Can they be estimated using electromyographic techniques alone? Spine, April 1, 1999:24(7), pp698-703.

Chiropractic Research Review

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