Muscular performance is an important factor for the mechanical stability of lumbar spine in humans, in which, the co-contraction of lumbar muscles plays a key role. We hypothesized that when executing different daily living motions, the performance of the lumbar muscle co-contraction stabilization mechanism varies between patients with lumbar disc herniation (LDH) and healthy controls. Hence, in this study, co-contraction performance of lumbar muscles between patients with LDH and healthy subjects was explored to check if there are significant differences between the two groups when performing four representative movements.
Twenty-six LDH patients (15 females, 11 males) and a control group of twenty-eight subjects (16 females, 12 males) were recruited. Surface electromyography (EMG) signals were recorded from the external oblique, lumbar multifidus, and internal oblique/transversus abdominis muscles during the execution of four types of movement, namely: forward bending, backward bending, left lateral flexion and right lateral flexion. The acquired EMG signals were segmented, and wavelet decomposition was performed followed by reconstruction of the low-frequency components of the signal. Then, the reconstructed signals were used for further analysis. Co-contraction ratio was employed to assess muscle coordination and compare it between the LDH patients and healthy controls. The corresponding signals of the subjects in the two groups were compared to evaluate the differences in agonistic and antagonistic muscle performance during the different motions. Also, sample entropy was applied to evaluate complexity changes in lumbar muscle recruitment during the movements.
Significant differences between the LDH and control groups were found in the studied situations (p < 0.05). During the four movements considered in this study, the participants of the LDH group exhibited a higher level of co-contraction ratio, lower agonistic, and higher antagonistic lumbar muscle activity (p < 0.01) than those of the control group. Furthermore, the co-contraction ratio of LDH patients was dominated by the antagonistic muscle activity during the movements, except for the forward bending motion. However, in the healthy control group, the agonistic muscle activity contributed more to the co-contraction ratio with an exception for the backward bending motion. Conversely, the sample entropy value was significantly lower for agonistic muscles of LDH group compared to the control group (p < 0.01) while the entropy value was significantly greater in antagonistic muscles (p < 0.01) during the four types of movement, respectively.
Lumbar disc herniation patients exhibited numerous variations in the evaluated parameters that reflect the co-contraction of lumbar muscles, the agonistic and antagonistic muscle activities, and their respective sample entropy values when compared with the healthy control group. These variations could be due to the compensation mechanism that was required to stabilize the spine. The results of this study could facilitate the design of efficient rehabilitation methods for treatment of lumbar muscle dysfunctions.