Understanding regional activation of thoraco-lumbar muscles in chronic low back pain and its relationship to clinically relevant domains

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Authors

  • Francesca Serafino
  • Marco Trucco
  • Adele Occhionero
  • Giacinto Luigi Cerone
  • Alessandro Chiarotto
  • Taian Martins Vieira

Colleges, School and Institutes

Abstract

Background
Altered regional activation of the lumbar extensors has been previously observed in individuals with low back pain (LBP) performing high-effort and fatiguing tasks. It is currently unknown whether similar alterations can be observed during low-effort functional tasks. Similarly, previous studies did not investigate whether side differences in regional activation are present in individuals with LBP. Finally, there is limited evidence of whether the extent of the alteration of regional activation is associated with clinical factors. Therefore, the aim of this study was to investigate whether individuals with LBP exhibit asymmetric regional activation of the thoraco-lumbar extensor muscles during functional tasks, and if the extent of neuromuscular control alteration is associated with clinical and psychosocial outcome domains.

Methods
21 participants with and 21 without LBP performed five functional tasks (gait, sit-to-stand, forward trunk flexion, shoulder flexion and anterior pelvic tilt). The spatial distribution of activation of the thoraco-lumbar extensor muscles was assessed bilaterally using high-density electromyography. For each side, the distribution of electromyographic (EMG) amplitude was characterized in terms of intensity, location and size. Indices of asymmetry were calculated from these features and comparisons between groups and tasks were performed using ANOVA. The features that significantly differed between groups were correlated with self-reported measures of pain intensity and other outcome domains.

Results
Indices of asymmetry did not differ between participants with and without LBP (p > 0.11). The cranio-caudal location of the activation differed between tasks (p < 0.05), but not between groups (p = 0.64). Participants with LBP showed reduced EMG amplitude during anterior pelvic tilt and loading response phase during gait (both p < 0.05). Pearson correlation revealed that greater pain intensity was associated with lower EMG amplitude for both tasks (R<-0.5, p < 0.05).

Conclusions
Despite clear differences between tasks, individuals with and without LBP exhibited similar distributions of EMG amplitude during low-effort functional activities, both within and between sides. However, individuals with LBP demonstrated lower activation of the thoraco-lumbar muscles during gait and anterior pelvic tilt, especially those reporting higher pain intensity. These results have implications in the development or refinement of assessment and intervention strategies focusing on motor control in patients with chronic LBP.

Details

Original languageEnglish
Article number432
JournalBMC Musculoskeletal Disorders
Volume22
Publication statusPublished - 11 May 2021