Regional differences between superficial and deep lumbar multifidus in patients with chronic lumbar spine pathology

Padwal J, Berry DB, Hubbard JC, Zlomislic V, Allen RT, Garfin SR, Ward SR, Shahidi B.
BMC Musculoskelet Disord, 2020 21(1):764.


BACKGROUND: Due to its unique arrangement, the deep and superficial fibers of the multifidus may have differential roles for maintaining spine stabilization and lumbar posture; the superficial multifidus is responsible for lumbar extension and the deep multifidus for intersegmental stability. In patients with chronic lumbar spine pathology, muscle activation patterns have been shown to be attenuated or delayed in the deep, but not superficial, multifidus. This has been interpreted as pain differentially influencing the deep region. However, it is unclear if degenerative changes affecting the composition and function of the multifidus differs between the superficial and deep regions, an alternative explanation for these electrophysiological changes. Therefore, the goal of this study was to investigate macrostructural and microstructural differences between the superficial and deep regions of the multifidus muscle in patients with lumbar spine pathology.

METHODS: In 16 patients undergoing lumbar spinal surgery for degenerative conditions, multifidus biopsies were acquired at two distinct locations: 1) the most superficial portion of muscle adjacent to the spinous process and 2) approximately 1 cm lateral to the spinous process and deeper at the spinolaminar border of the affected vertebral level. Structural features related to muscle function were histologically compared between these superficial and deep regions, including tissue composition, fat fraction, fiber cross sectional area, fiber type, regeneration, degeneration, vascularity and inflammation.

RESULTS: No significant differences in fat signal fraction, muscle area, fiber cross sectional area, muscle regeneration, muscle degeneration, or vascularization were found between the superficial and deep regions of the multifidus. Total collagen content between the two regions was the same. However, the superficial region of the multifidus was found to have less loose and more dense collagen than the deep region.

CONCLUSIONS: The results of our study did not support that the deep region of the multifidus is more degenerated in patients with lumbar spine pathology, as gross degenerative changes in muscle microstructure and macrostructure were the same in the superficial and deep regions of the multifidus. In these patients, the multifidus is not protected in order to maintain mobility and structural stability of the spine.