Investigation of the differential contributions of superficial and deep muscles on cervical spinal loads with changing head postures

Chih Hsiu Cheng, Andy Chien, Wei Li Hsu, Carl Pai Chu Chen, Hsin Yi Kathy Cheng*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal Article peer-review

23 Scopus citations


Cervical spinal loads are predominately influenced by activities of cervical muscles. However, the coordination between deep and superficial muscles and their influence on the spinal loads is not well understood. This study aims to document the changes of cervical spinal loads and the differential contributions of superficial and deep muscles with varying head postures. Electromyography (EMG) of cervical muscles from seventeen healthy adults were measured during maximal isometric exertions for lateral flexion (at 10°, 20° and terminal position) as well as flexion/extension (at 10°, 20°, 30°, and terminal position) neck postures. An EMG-assisted optimization approach was used to estimate the muscle forces and subsequent spinal loads. The results showed that compressive and anterior-posterior shear loads increased significantly with neck flexion. In particular, deep muscle forces increased significantly with increasing flexion. It was also determined that in all different static head postures, the deep muscle forces were greater than those of the superficial muscle forces, however, such pattern was reversed during peak efforts where greater superficial muscle forces were identified with increasing angle of inclination. In summary, the identification of significantly increased spinal loads associated with increased deep muscle activation during flexion postures, implies higher risks in predisposing the neck to occupationally related disorders. The results also explicitly supported that deep muscles play a greater role in maintaining stable head postures where superficial muscles are responsible for peak exertions and reinforcing the spinal stability at terminal head postures. This study provided quantitative data of normal cervical spinal loads and revealed motor control strategies in coordinating the superficial and deep muscles during physical tasks.

Original languageEnglish
Article number0150608
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number3
StatePublished - 03 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Cheng et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


Dive into the research topics of 'Investigation of the differential contributions of superficial and deep muscles on cervical spinal loads with changing head postures'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this