The relationship between sagittal curvature and extensor muscle volume in the lumbar spine



Judith R. Meakin, Biomedical Physics Group, College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physics Sciences, University of Exeter, Exeter, UK.

T: +44 (0)1392 724109; F: +44 (0)1392 724111;



A previous modelling study predicted that the forces applied by the extensor muscles to stabilise the lumbar spine would be greater in spines that have a larger sagittal curvature (lordosis). Because the force-generating capacity of a muscle is related to its size, it was hypothesised that the size of the extensor muscles in a subject would be related to the size of their lumbar lordosis. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data were obtained, together with age, height, body mass and back pain status, from 42 female subjects. The volume of the extensor muscles (multifidus and erector spinae) caudal to the mid-lumbar level was estimated from cross-sectional area measurements in axial T1-weighted MRIs spanning the lumbar spine. Lower lumbar curvature was determined from sagittal T1-weighted images. A stepwise linear regression model was used to determine the best predictors of muscle volume. The mean lower lumbar extensor muscle volume was 281 cm3 (SD = 49 cm3). The mean lower lumbar curvature was 30 ° (SD = 7 °). Five subjects reported current back pain and were excluded from the regression analysis. Nearly half the variation in muscle volume was accounted for by the variables age (standardised coefficient, B = −3.2, P = 0.03) and lower lumbar curvature (B = 0.47, P = 0.002). The results support the hypothesis that extensor muscle volume in the lower lumbar spine is related to the magnitude of the sagittal curvature; this has implications for assessing muscle size as an indicator of muscle strength.