Spinal motion and muscle activity during active trunk movements: comparing sheep and humans adopting upright and quadrupedal postures

Stephanie Valentin, Theresia Licka

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4 Citations (Scopus)


Sheep are used as models for the human spine, yet comparative in vivo data necessary for validation is limited. The purpose of this study was therefore to compare spinal motion and trunk muscle activity during active trunk movements in sheep and humans. Three-dimensional kinematic data as well as surface electromyography (sEMG) of spinal flexion and extension was compared in twenty-four humans in upright (UR) and 4-point kneeling (KN) postures and in 17 Austrian mountain sheep. Kinematic markers were attached over the sacrum, posterior iliac spines, and spinous and transverse processes of T5, T8, T11, L2 and L5 in humans and over the sacrum, tuber sacrale, T5, T8, T12, L3 and L7 in sheep. The activity of erector spinae (ES), rectus abdominis (RA), obliquus externus (OE), and obliquus internus (OI) were collected. Maximum sEMG (MOE) was identified for each muscle and trial, and reported as a percentage (MOE%) of the overall maximally observed sEMG from all trials. Spinal range of motion was significantly smaller in sheep compared to humans (UR / KN) during flexion (sheep: 6–11°; humans 12–34°) and extension (sheep: 4°; humans: 11–17°). During extension, MOE% of ES was greater in sheep (median: 77.37%) than UR humans (24.89%), and MOE% of OE and OI was greater in sheep (OE 76.20%; OI 67.31%) than KN humans (OE 21.45%; OI 19.34%), while MOE% of RA was lower in sheep (21.71%) than UR humans (82.69%). During flexion, MOE% of RA was greater in sheep (83.09%) than humans (KN 47.42%; UR 41.38%), and MOE% of ES in sheep (45.73%) was greater than KN humans (14.45%), but smaller than UR humans (72.36%). The differences in human and sheep spinal motion and muscle activity suggest that caution is warranted when ovine data are used to infer human spine biomechanics.
Original languageEnglish
Article number0146362
Number of pages16
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 7 Jan 2016
Externally publishedYes


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