This study explored inter-relationships between vertebral fracture, thoracic kyphosis and trunk muscle control in elderly people with osteoporosis. Osteoporotic vertebral fractures are associated with increased risk of further vertebral fractures; but underlying mechanisms remain unclear. Several factors may explain this association, including changes in postural alignment (thoracic kyphosis) and altered trunk muscle contraction patterns. Both factors may increase risk of further fracture because of increased vertebral loading and impaired balance, which may increase falls risk. This study compared postural adjustments in 24 individuals with osteoporosis with and without vertebral fracture and with varying degrees of thoracic kyphosis.
Trunk muscle electromyographic activity (EMG) associated with voluntary arm movements was recorded and compared between individuals with and without vertebral fracture, and between those with low and high thoracic kyphosis. Overall, elderly participants in the study demonstrated co-contraction of the trunk flexor and extensor muscles during forwards arm movements, but those with vertebral fractures demonstrated a more pronounced co-contraction than those without fracture. Individuals with high thoracic kyphosis demonstrated more pronounced alternating flexor and extensor EMG bursts than those with less kyphosis. Co-contraction of trunk flexor and extensor muscles in older individuals contrasts the alternating bursts of antagonist muscle activity in previous studies of young individuals. This may have several consequences, including altered balance efficacy and the potential for increased compressive loads through the spine. Both of these outcomes may have consequences in a population with fragile vertebrae who are susceptible to fracture.