Neck Muscle Activation and Head Postures in Common High Performance Aerial Combat Maneuvers
Faculty of Computing, Health and Science
School of Exercise, Biomedical and Health Science / Centre for Exercise and Sports Science Research
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.