Spatio-temporal evaluation of neck muscle activation during postural perturbations in healthy subjects.

Research paper by D D Falla, A A Rainoldi, R R Merletti, G G Jull

Indexed on: 29 May '04Published on: 29 May '04Published in: Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology


The purpose of this study was to examine the spatio-temporal activation of the sternocleidomastoid (SCM) and cervical extensor (CE) muscles with respect to the deltoid muscle onset during rapid voluntary upper limb movement in healthy volunteers. The repeatability and reliability of the spatio-temporal aspects of the myoelectric signals were also examined. Ten subjects performed bilateral and unilateral rapid upper limb flexion, abduction and extension in response to a visual stimulus. EMG onsets and normalised root mean square (nRMS) values were calculated for the SCM and CE muscles. Subjects attended three testing sessions over non-consecutive days allowing the repeatability and reliability of these measures to be assessed. The SCM and CE muscles demonstrated feed-forward activation (activation within 50 ms of deltoid onset) during rapid arm movements in all directions. The sequence and magnitude of neck muscle activation displayed directional specificity, however, the neck flexor and extensor muscles displayed co-activation during all perturbations. EMG onsets demonstrated high repeatability in terms of repeated measure precision (nSEM in the range 1.9-5.7%). This was less evident for the repeatability of nRMS values. The results of this study provide a greater understanding of cervical neuromotor control strategies. During bilateral and unilateral upper limb perturbations, the SCM and CE muscles demonstrate feed-forward co-activation. It seems apparent that feed-forward activation of neck muscles is a mechanism necessary to achieve stability for the visual and vestibular systems, whilst ensuring stabilisation and protection of the cervical spine.