Patients with chronic neck pain demonstrate altered patterns of muscle activation during performance of a functional upper limb task

Deborah Falla, Gina Bilenkij, Gwendolen Jull

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

263 Citations (Scopus)


STUDY DESIGN: Cross-sectional study.

OBJECTIVE: This study compared neck muscle activation patterns during and after a repetitive upper limb task between patients with idiopathic neck pain, whiplash-associated disorders, and controls.

SUMMARY OF BACKGROUND DATA: Previous studies have identified altered motor control of the upper trapezius during functional tasks in patients with neck pain. Whether the cervical flexor muscles demonstrate altered motor control during functional activities is unknown.

METHODS: Electromyographic activity was recorded from the sternocleidomastoid, anterior scalenes, and upper trapezius muscles. Root mean square electromyographic amplitude was calculated during and on completion of a functional task.

RESULTS: A general trend was evident to suggest greatest electromyograph amplitude in the sternocleidomastoid, anterior scalenes, and left upper trapezius muscles for the whiplash-associated disorders group, followed by the idiopathic group, with lowest electromyographic amplitude recorded for the control group. A reverse effect was apparent for the right upper trapezius muscle. The level of perceived disability (Neck Disability Index score) had a significant effect on the electromyographic amplitude recorded between neck pain patients.

CONCLUSIONS: Patients with neck pain demonstrated greater activation of accessory neck muscles during a repetitive upper limb task compared to asymptomatic controls. Greater activation of the cervical muscles in patients with neck pain may represent an altered pattern of motor control to compensate for reduced activation of painful muscles. Greater perceived disability among patients with neck pain accounted for the greater electromyographic amplitude of the superficial cervical muscles during performance of the functional task.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1436-40
Number of pages5
Issue number13
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2004


  • Adult
  • Arm
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Electromyography
  • Female
  • Hand
  • Head Movements
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motor Skills
  • Neck Muscles
  • Neck Pain
  • Pain Measurement
  • Whiplash Injuries
  • Comparative Study
  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't


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