Open Access Study protocol

Assessment of the paraspinal muscles of subjects presenting an idiopathic scoliosis: an EMG pilot study

Nathaly Gaudreault1*, A Bertrand Arsenault12, Christian Larivière13, Sophie J DeSerres4 and Charles-Hilaire Rivard5

Author Affiliations

1 CRIR, Montreal Rehabilitation Institute, Montreal, Quebec, H3S 2J4, Canada

2 School of Rehabilitation, Faculty of Medicine, University of Montreal, Montreal, Quebec, H3C 3J7, Canada

3 Institut de recherche Robert-Sauvé en santé et en sécurité du travail (IRSST), Montreal, Quebec, H3A 3C2, Canada,. Reseach Center, Montreal Rehabilitation Institute, Montreal, Quebec, H3S 2J4, Canada

4 School of physical and Occupational therapy, McGill Unversity, Montreal, Quebec, H3G 1Y5, Canada

5 Department of surgery, Ste-Justine Hospital, Montreal, Quebec, H3A 3C2, Canada

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BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders 2005, 6:14  doi:10.1186/1471-2474-6-14

Published: 10 March 2005



It is known that the back muscles of scoliotic subjects present abnormalities in their fiber type composition. Some researchers have hypothesized that abnormal fiber composition can lead to paraspinal muscle dysfunction such as poor neuromuscular efficiency and muscle fatigue. EMG parameters were used to evaluate these impairments. The purpose of the present study was to examine the clinical potential of different EMG parameters such as amplitude (RMS) and median frequency (MF) of the power spectrum in order to assess the back muscles of patients presenting idiopathic scoliosis in terms of their neuromuscular efficiency and their muscular fatigue.


L5/S1 moments during isometric efforts in extension were measured in six subjects with idiopathic scoliosis and ten healthy controls. The subjects performed three 7 s ramp contractions ranging from 0 to 100% maximum voluntary contraction (MVC) and one 30 s sustained contraction at 75% MVC. Surface EMG activity was recorded bilaterally from the paraspinal muscles at L5, L3, L1 and T10. The slope of the EMG RMS/force (neuromuscular efficiency) and MF/force (muscle composition) relationships were computed during the ramp contractions while the slope of the EMG RMS/time and MF/time relationships (muscle fatigue) were computed during the sustained contraction. Comparisons were performed between the two groups and between the left and right sides for the EMG parameters.


No significant group or side differences between the slopes of the different measures used were found at the level of the apex (around T10) of the major curve of the spine. However, a significant side difference was seen at a lower level (L3, p = 0.01) for the MF/time parameter.


The EMG parameters used in this study could not discriminate between the back muscles of scoliotic subjects and those of control subject regarding fiber type composition, neuromuscular efficiency and muscle fatigue at the level of the apex. The results of this pilot study indicate that compensatory strategies are potentially seen at lower level of the spine with these EMG parameters.

EMG; scoliosis; neuromuscular efficiency; muscle fatigue