The roles of antagonistic activation of abdominal muscles and of intra-abdominal pressurization remain enigmatic, but are thought to be associated with both spinal unloading and spinal stabilization in activities such as lifting. Biomechanical analyses are needed to understand the function of intra-abdominal pressurization because of the anatomical and physiological complexity, but prior analyses have been over-simplified.
To test whether increased intra-abdominal pressure was associated with reduced spinal compression forces for efforts that generated moments about each of the principal axis directions, a previously published biomechanical model of the spine and its musculature was modified by the addition of anatomically realistic three-layers of curved abdominal musculature connected by fascia to the spine. Published values of muscle cross-sectional areas and the active and passive stiffness properties were assigned. The muscle activations were calculated assuming minimized muscle stress and stretch for the model loaded with flexion, extension, lateral bending and axial rotation moments of up to 60 Nm, along with intra-abdominal pressurization of 5 or 10 kPa (37.5 or 75 mmHg) and partial bodyweight (340 N).
The analysis predicted a reduction in spinal compressive force with increase in intra-abdominal pressurization from 5 to 10 kPa. This reduction at 60 Nm external effort was 21% for extension effort, 18% for flexion effort, 29% for lateral bending and 31% for axial rotation.
This analysis predicts that intra-abdominal pressure produces spinal unloading, and shows likely muscle activation patterns that achieve this.