The assessment of abdominal and multifidus muscles and their role in physical function in older adults: a systematic review

W. A. Cuellar, Anitra Wilson, Christopher L. Blizzard, Petr Otahal, M. L. Callisaya, G. Jones, Julie A. Hides, Tania Maree Winzenberg

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


Background Age-related changes in the trunk (abdominal and lumbar multifidus) muscles and their impact on physical function of older adults are not clearly understood. Objectives To systematically summarise studies of these trunk muscles in older adults. Data sources Cochrane Library, Pubmed, EMBASE and CINAHL were searched using terms for abdominal and MF muscles and measurement methods. Study selection Two reviewers independently assessed studies and included those reporting measurements of abdominal muscles and/or MF by ultrasound, computed tomography, magnetic resonance imaging or electromyography of adults aged ≥50 years. Data synthesis A best evidence synthesis was performed. Results Best evidence synthesis revealed limited evidence for detrimental effects of ageing or spinal conditions on trunk muscles, and conflicting evidence for decreased physical activity or stroke having detrimental effects on trunk muscles. Thicknesses of rectus abdominis, internal oblique and external oblique muscles were 36% to 48% smaller for older than younger adults. Muscle quality was poorer among people with moderate-extreme low back pain and predicted physical function outcomes. Limitations Study heterogeneity precluded meta-analysis. Conclusion Overall, the evidence base in older people has significant limitations, so the role of physiotherapy interventions aimed at these muscles remains unclear. The results point to areas in which further research could lead to clinically useful outcomes. These include determining the role of the trunk muscles in the physical function of older adults and disease; developing and testing rehabilitation programmes for older people with spinal conditions and lower back pain; and identifying modifiable factors that could mitigate age-related changes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21-39
Number of pages19
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2017


  • Abdominal muscles
  • Multifidus muscles
  • Older adults
  • Physical function
  • Systematic review
  • Trunk muscles

Cite this