Spine stability is ensured through isometric coactivation of the torso muscles; however, these same muscles are used cyclically to assist ventilation. Our objective was to investigate this apparent paradoxical role (isometric contraction for stability or rhythmic contraction for ventilation) of some selected torso muscles that are involved in both ventilation and support of the spine. Eight, asymptomatic, male subjects provided data on low back moments, motion, muscle activation, and hand force. These data were input to an anatomically detailed, biologically driven model from which spine load and a lumbar spine stability index was obtained. Results revealed that subjects entrained their torso stabilization muscles to breathe during demanding ventilation tasks. Increases in lung volume and back extensor muscle activation coincided with increases in spine stability, whereas declines in spine stability were observed during periods of low lung inflation volume and simultaneously low levels of torso muscle activation. As a case study, aberrant ventilation motor patterns (poor muscle entrainment), seen in one subject, compromised spine stability. Those interested in rehabilitation of patients with lung compromise and concomitant back troubles would be assisted with knowledge of the mechanical links between ventilation during tasks that impose spine loading.
The authors are with the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences, Department of Kinesiology, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, ON.