Muscle specificity in tests of cervical flexor muscle performance

Shaun O'Leary, Deborah Falla, Gwendolen Jull, Bill Vicenzino

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

64 Citations (Scopus)


The deep cervical flexor (DCF) muscles are considered to be of substantial clinical importance in the management of neck pain. While conventional cervical flexion (CF) dynamometry methods have been used frequently to assess the capacity of the cervical flexor muscles, it has been suggested that cranio-cervical flexion (CCF) methods may provide a more specific test of DCF muscle performance. This study compared the activation of the deep and superficial cervical flexor muscles between tests of isometric cranio-cervical flexion (CCF) and conventional cervical flexion (CF) dynamometry. Normalised root-mean-square values were recorded for the deep cervical flexor (DCF), sternocleidomastoid (SCM), anterior scalene (AS), and sternohyoid (SH) muscles during isometric CCF and CF tests at maximal voluntary contraction (MVC), 50% MVC, and 20% MVC in ten healthy volunteers. The results demonstrated significantly greater electromyography (EMG) amplitude for the SCM (P<.001-.002) and AS (P<.001-.001) muscles in the CF test conditions (MVC, 20%MVC, and 50%MVC) compared to CCF test conditions. Moreover, the SH muscle demonstrated significantly greater EMG amplitude during CF compared to CCF but only in the 50% MVC and 20% MVC conditions (P=.007 and .02 respectively). These results demonstrate that dynamometry tests of CF result in greater activity of the superficial cervical flexor muscles compared to tests of CCF. As a result, CCF dynamometry may provide a more specific method to assess and retrain DCF muscle performance, compared to conventional CF in which superficial muscle activity may mask impaired performance of the DCF muscles.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)35-40
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of electromyography and kinesiology : official journal of the International Society of Electrophysiological Kinesiology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2007


  • Adult
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Cervical Vertebrae
  • Electromyography
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Isometric Contraction
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Muscle, Skeletal
  • Neck
  • Physical Endurance
  • Physical Examination
  • Physical Exertion
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Stress, Mechanical
  • Journal Article


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