The association between back muscle characteristics and pressure pain sensitivity in low back pain patients
Background and aims: Some low back pain (LBP) patients recover after every pain episode whereas others develop chronicity. Research indicates that the amount of atrophy and fat infiltration differs between patients with LBP. Also enhanced pain sensitivity is present only in a sub-group of LBP patients. The relationship between pain sensitivity and muscular deformations in LBP, is however unexplored. This study examined the association between pressure pain sensitivity and the structural characteristics of the lumbar muscles in three different groups of nonspecific LBP patients. Methods: This cross-sectional study examined the total cross-sectional area (CSA), fat CSA, muscle CSA and muscle fat index (MFI) of the lumbar multifidus (MF) and erector spinae (ES) at level L4 by magnetic resonance imaging in 54 patients with non-specific LBP (23 recurrent LBP, 15 non-continuous chronic LBP and 16 continuous chronic LBP). Pressure pain thresholds were measured at four locations (lower back, neck, hand and leg) by a manual pressure algometer and combined into one "pain sensitivity" variable. As a primary outcome measure, the association between pain sensitivity and muscle structure characteristics was investigated by multiple independent general linear regression models. Secondly, the influence of body mass index (BMI) and age on muscle characteristics was examined. Results: A positive association was found between pain sensitivity and the total CSA of the MF (p = 0.006) and ES (p = 0.001), and the muscle CSA of the MF (p = 0.003) and ES (p = 0.001), irrespective of the LBP group. No association was found between pain sensitivity and fat CSA or MFI (p > 0.01). Furthermore, a positive association was found between BMI and the fat CSA of the MF (p = 0.004) and ES (p = 0.006), and the MFI of the MF (p < 0.01) and ES (p = 0.003). Finally, a positive association was found between age with the fat CSA of the MF (p = 0.008) but not with the fat CSA of the ES (p > 0.01), nor the MFI of the MF (p > 0.01) and ES (p > 0.01). Conclusions: A higher pain sensitivity is associated with a smaller total and muscle CSA in the lumbar MF and ES, and vice versa, but results are independent from the LBP subgroup. On the other hand, the amount of fat infiltration in the lumbar muscles is not associated with pain sensitivity. Instead, a higher BMI is associated with more lumbar fat infiltration. Finally, older patients with LBP are associated with higher fat infiltration in the MF but not in the ES muscle.
Source (journal)
Scandinavian Journal of Pain. - -
18 :2 (2018) , p. 281-293
Pubmed ID
Full text (Publisher's DOI)
Full text (publisher's version - intranet only)
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Publication type
Publications with a UAntwerp address
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Web of Science
Creation 12.06.2018
Last edited 23.08.2022
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