METHODS: In the experimental protocol, volunteers free of neck problems first found a comfortable neutral head posture with eyes closed. They deconditioned their cervical muscles by moving their heads 5 times in either flexion/extension or lateral flexion and then attempted to return to the same starting position. Two conditioning sequences were interspersed within the task: hold the head in an extended or laterally flexed position for 10 seconds; or hold a 70% maximum voluntary contraction in the same position for 10 seconds. A computer-interfaced electrogoniometer was used to measure head position while a force transducer coupled to an auditory alarm signaled the force of isometric contraction. The difference between the initial and final head orientation was calculated in 3 orthogonal planes. Analysis of variance (1-way ANOVA) with a blocking factor (participants) was used to detect differences in proprioceptive error among the conditioning sequences while controlling for variation between participants.
RESULTS: Forty-eight chiropractic students participated: 36 males and 12 females, aged 28.2 +/- 4.8 yrs. During the neck extension test, actively contracting the posterior neck muscles evoked an undershoot of the target position by 2.1degrees (p <0.001). No differences in repositioning were found during the lateral flexion test.
CONCLUSION: The results suggest that the recent history of cervical paraspinal muscle contraction can influence head repositioning in flexion/extension. To our knowledge this is the first time that muscle mechanical history has been shown to influence proprioceptive accuracy in the necks of humans. This finding may be used to elucidate the mechanism behind repositioning errors seen in people with neck pain and could guide development of a clinical test for involvement of paraspinal muscles in cervical pain and dysfunction.
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