Assessment of spinal musculature using surface electromyographic spectral color mapping

C G Greenough, C W Oliver, Andrew P Jones

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


STUDY DESIGN: A technique is described for analyzing electromyogram data from lumbar spinal muscles, with special reference to discrimination of people with back pain. The ability to discriminate was evaluated in 99 people (61 healthy and 38 with chronic or acute back pain), and the influence of load was assessed.

OBJECTIVES: To evaluate methods of analysis of complex electromyogram data and to assess correlation of electromyogram information with clinical condition in people with and without back pain.

SUMMARY OF BACKGROUND INFORMATION: In previous analyses of electromyogram data, only a small part of the data have been used. Spinal muscular decompensation has been postulated in chronic low back pain, but there has been no direct demonstration of this phenomenon. Objective measures are still elusive.

METHODS: Lumbar spinal surface electromyograms were recorded during an isometric lifting task. The data were represented graphically as color-coded plots of electromyogram frequency, time, and electromyogram amplitude. Spectral width at half-peak amplitude (spectral half width) was calculated from the digitized, summed data. Ninety-nine people were tested: 48 men (29 with no recent [in the past 2 years] history of back pain, 16 with chronic back pain, 3 with acute back pain) and 51 women (32 with no recent back pain and 19 with chronic back pain).

RESULTS: Spectral color maps in people with chronic back pain were markedly different from those in healthy people. Spectral half width was greater in people with chronic back pain than in healthy people (P < 0.01). Blinded analysis of spectral color maps allowed discrimination of people with back pain from healthy people with a sensitivity of 76% and a specificity of 81%. People with a history of back pain had markedly variable half widths.

CONCLUSIONS: A new method of analysis of electromyogram data from lumbar spinal muscles has allowed discrimination between people with back pain and healthy people. This provides direct evidence of a correlation between muscular electrical function, measured by electromyogram, and low back pain. This technique may have potential as an objective measurement tool.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1768-74
Number of pages7
Issue number16
Publication statusPublished - 15 Aug 1998


  • adolescent
  • adult
  • aged
  • electromyography
  • female
  • humans
  • low back pain
  • lumbar vertebrae
  • male
  • middle aged
  • muscle
  • recurrence
  • sex characteristics
  • signal processing
  • weight-bearing
  • skeletal
  • computer-assisted


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