Mechanisms explaining the association between low back trouble and deficits in information processing. A controlled study with follow-up

Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 1999 Feb 1;24(3):255-61. doi: 10.1097/00007632-199902010-00011.


Study design: A controlled study with a 6-month follow-up period.

Objectives: To find an explanation for the association between impairment in information processing, i.e., slow reaction times, and chronic low back trouble.

Summary of background data: Low back trouble, chronic pain in general, and depression have been associated with impaired cognitive functions and slow reaction times. It is a common phenomenon that the preferred hand performs better than the nonpreferred hand in motor tasks. The authors hypothesized that chronic low back trouble hampers the functioning of short-term memory in a way that leads the preferred hand to loose its advantage over the nonpreferred hand, but that the advantage would be restored during the rehabilitation.

Methods: Sixty-one healthy control subjects and 68 patients with low back trouble participated in the study. Reaction times for the preferred and nonpreferred upper limbs were tested. A multiway analysis of covariance was used to examine the group, handedness, and rehabilitation effects on reaction times. The hypothesis was specifically tested with a third-degree interaction: group-handedness-rehabilitation.

Results: A significant interaction among group, handedness, and rehabilitation was found (P = 0.05). At the beginning, the reaction times for the preferred hand were faster among the control subjects (P = 0.001), but not among the patients with low back trouble (P = 0.62). After the rehabilitation, the preferred hand was faster both among the control subjects (P = 0.001) and the patients with low back trouble (P = 0.0002). During the rehabilitation, back pain, psychological distress, and general disability decreased significantly among the patients with chronic low back trouble.

Conclusions: The results support the hypothesis that chronic low back trouble (i.e., pain, psychological distress, and general disability) hampers the functioning of short-term memory, which results in decreased speed of information processing among patients with chronic low back trouble.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Choice Behavior
  • Chronic Disease
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology*
  • Depression / etiology*
  • Disability Evaluation
  • Emotions
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Functional Laterality
  • Humans
  • Low Back Pain / complications*
  • Low Back Pain / psychology
  • Low Back Pain / rehabilitation
  • Male
  • Memory Disorders / etiology*
  • Memory, Short-Term
  • Middle Aged
  • Psychomotor Performance
  • Reaction Time