Electromyographic recordings of low back pain subjects and non-pain controls in six different positions: effect of pain levels

John G. Arena, Richard A. Sherman, Glenda M. Bruno, Timothy R. Young

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

63 Scopus citations


Surface electromyographic (EMG) activity recordings of bilateral paraspinal muscle tension were measured twice on 20 non-pain controls and on 46 low back pain subjects (21 individuals with intervertebral disk disorders and 25 subjects with unspecified musculoskeletal backache) during 6 positions: standing, bending from the waist, rising, sitting with back unsupported, sitting with back supported, and prone. Back pain subjects were measured during both low pain and high pain states. Results revealed a non-significant trend for all subjects, regardless of diagnosis, to have higher paraspinal muscle tension levels on the second (or high pain) assessment. A significant diagnosis by position interaction was observed which was similar to the interaction in our previous study which employed only a single measurement session. Analysis of simple main effects revealed this to be due to control subjects during the standing position having lower EMG levels than the back pain groups, and intervertebral disk disorder subjects having higher EMG levels than the other groups during the supported sitting position. As in our previous study, diagnosis was found to be a clinically significant factor, in that controls had much fewer clinically abnormal readings than back pain patients. The lack of a significant effect for pain state is congruent with findings in the headache literature. The importance of clearly defined diagnostic categories in low back pain research and the utility of measuring subjects in various positions is discussed, as are possible explanations for lack of significant pain state findings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)23-28
Number of pages6
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 1991
Externally publishedYes


  • EMG levels
  • Low back pain
  • Paraspinal muscle tension

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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