Neck Muscle Activation and Head Postures in Common High Performance Aerial Combat Maneuvers

Document Type

Journal Article


Computing, Health and Science


Exercise, Biomedical and Health Science, Centre for Exercise and Sports Science Research




This article was originally published as: Netto, K., & Burnett, A. F. (2006). Neck Muscle Activation and Head Postures in Common High Performance Aerial Combat Maneuvers. Aviation, Space and Environmental Medicine, 77(10), 1049-1055. Original article available here


Introduction: Neck injuries are common in high performance combat pilots and have been attributed to high gravitational forces and the non-neutral head postures adopted during aerial combat maneuvers. There is still little known about the pathomechanics of these injuries. Methods: Six Royal Australian Air Force Hawk pilots flew a sortie that included combinations of three +Gz levels (1, 3, and 5) and four head postures (Neutral, Turn, Extension, and Check-6). Surface electromyography from neck and shoulder muscles was recorded in flight. Three-dimensional measures of head postures adopted in flight were estimated postflight with respect to end-range of the cervical spine using an electromagnetic tracking device. Results: Mean muscle activation increased significantly with both increasing +Gz and non-neutral head postures. Check-6 at +5 Gz (mean activation of all muscles = 51% MVIC) elicited significantly greater muscle activation in most muscles when compared with Neutral, Extension, and Turn head postures. High levels of muscle co-contraction were evident in high acceleration and non-neutral head postures. Head kinematics showed Check-6 was closest to end-range in any movement plane (86% ROM in rotation) and produced the greatest magnitude of rotation in other planes. Turn and Extension showed a large magnitude of rotation with reference to end-range in the primary plane of motion but displayed smaller rotations in other planes. Discussion: High levels of neck muscle activation and co-contraction due to high +Gz and head postures close to end range were evident in this study, suggesting the major influence of these factors on the pathomechanics of neck injuries in high performance combat pilots.