Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 217, Issue 1, pp 67–77 | Cite as

Cervico-ocular coordination during neck rotation is distorted in people with whiplash-associated disorders

  • Catharina S. M. Bexander
  • Paul W. HodgesEmail author
Research Article


People with whiplash-associated disorders (WAD) not only suffer from neck/head pain, but commonly report deficits in eye movement control. Recent work has highlighted a strong relationship between eye and neck muscle activation in pain-free subjects. It is possible that WAD may disrupt the intricate coordination between eye and neck movement. Electromyographic activity (EMG) of muscles that rotate the cervical spine to the right (left sternocleidomastoid, right obliquus capitis inferior (OI), right splenius capitis (SC) and right multifidus (MF)) was recorded in nine people with chronic WAD. Cervical rotation was performed with five gaze conditions involving different gaze directions relative to cervical rotation. The relationship between eye position/movement and neck muscle activity was contrasted with previous observations from pain-free controls. Three main differences were observed in WAD. First, the superficial muscle SC was active with both directions of cervical rotation in contrast to activity only with right rotation in pain-free controls. Second, activity of OI and MF varied between directions of cervical rotation, unlike the non-direction-specific activity in controls. Third, the effect of horizontal gaze direction on neck muscle EMG was augmented compared to controls. These observations provide evidence of redistribution of activity between neck muscles during cervical rotation and increased interaction between eye and neck muscle activity in people with WAD. These changes in cervico-ocular coordination may underlie clinical symptoms reported by people with WAD that involve visual deficits and changes in function during cervical rotation such as postural control.


Whiplash-associated disorders Cervico-ocular reflex Gaze Neck muscle activity Pain adaptation 



PH was supported by a Senior Principal Research Fellowship from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) of Australia. We thank Rebecca Mellor for assistance with data collection.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.NHMRC Centre of Clinical Research Excellence in Spinal Pain, Injury and Health, School of Health and Rehabilitation SciencesThe University of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia

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