Chronic neck pain alters muscle activation patterns to sudden movements

Shellie A Boudreau, Deborah Falla

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)


The aim of this study was to assess the activation of the sternocleidomastoid (SCM) and splenius capitis (SC) muscles in response to unanticipated, full body perturbations in individuals with chronic neck pain (NP) and age-matched healthy controls (HC). Individuals with NP had a history of NP for 8.9 ± 7.8 years, rated the intensity of NP as 4.2 ± 2.0 (score out of 10), and scored 15.3 ± 6.5 on the Neck Disability Index. Participants stood on a moveable platform during which 32 randomized postural perturbations (eight repetitions of four perturbation types: 8 cm forward slide (FS), 8 cm backward slides, 10° forward tilt, and 10° backward tilt) with varying inter-perturbation time intervals were performed over a period of 5 min. Bilateral surface electromyography (EMG) from the SCM and SC was recorded, and the onset time and the average rectified value of the EMG signal was determined for epochs of 100 ms; starting 100 ms prior to and 500 ms after the perturbation onset. Individuals with NP, as compared to HC, demonstrated delayed onset times and reduced EMG amplitude of the SCM and SC muscles in response to all postural perturbations. Such findings were most pronounced following the FS postural perturbation (healthy vs. NP for SCM 83.3 ± 8.0 vs. 86.3 ± 4.4 and SC 75.6 ± 3.5 vs. 89.3 ± 4.2), which was also associated with the greatest change (expressed in % relative to baseline) in EMG amplitude (healthy vs. NP for SCM 206.6 ± 50.4 vs. 115.9 ± 15.7 and SC 83.4 ± 19.2 vs. 69.2 ± 10.9) across all postural perturbations types. Individuals with NP display altered neural control of the neck musculature in response to rapid, unanticipated full body postural perturbations. Although the relative timing of neck musculature activity in individuals with NP appears to be intact, simultaneous co-activation of the neck musculature emerges for unanticipated anterior-posterior postural perturbations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2011-20
Number of pages10
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2014


  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Chronic Disease
  • Disability Evaluation
  • Electromyography
  • Evoked Potentials, Motor
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Movement
  • Muscle, Skeletal
  • Neck Pain
  • Pain Measurement
  • Postural Balance
  • Sensation Disorders
  • Time Factors
  • Young Adult
  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't


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