Lumbopelvic kinematics and trunk muscle activity during sitting on stable and unstable surfaces

Peter O'Sullivan, Wim Dankaerts, Angus Burnett, Leon Straker, Gabriella Bargon, Niamh Moloney, Meredith Perry, Sharon Tsang

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

66 Citations (Scopus)


Study Design: A single-group comparative study. Objectives: To compare lumbopelvic kinematics and muscle activation patterns while sitting on stable and unstable surfaces. Background: Unstable surfaces are commonly used during the rehabilitation of certain low back pain disorders. The benefits postulated are increased muscle activity and facilitation of sustainable midrange positions via neuromuscular control. The use of unstable sitting devices in the workplace is controversial, as the postulated increase in muscle activity is thought to lead to a muscle fatigue/pain response. However, little evidence exists for or against the ability of these devices to alleviate or prevent spinal pain. Methods and Measures: This study included 26 healthy adults (14 male, 12 female). Fastrak 3-dimensional motion analysis detected lumbar curvature, pelvic tilt, and postural sway during sitting on a stable and unstable surface over 5-minute periods. Surface electromyography was used to measure activity in the superficial lumbar multifidus, transverse fibers of internal oblique, and iliocostalis lumborum pars thoracis. Results: Spinal postures were similar for sitting on a stable and unstable surface. Significant increases in postural sway were detected (P = .013) in 3 dimensions of movement during sitting on an unstable surface. Gender differences were noted. No EMG amplitude or variance differences were detected between seating conditions. Conclusions: Preliminary data show that sitting on unstable surfaces induces greater spinal motion, but does not significantly alter the lumbosacral posture nor the amount of activity in the superficial trunk muscles under investigation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)19-25
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Ergonomics
  • Lumbar spine
  • Postural sway
  • Posture
  • Trunk muscles

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation


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