Lumbar muscle dysfunction during remission of unilateral recurrent nonspecific low-back pain: evaluation with muscle functional MRI

Clin J Pain. 2013 Mar;29(3):187-94. doi: 10.1097/AJP.0b013e31824ed170.


Objectives: After cessation of a low-back pain (LBP) episode, alterations in trunk muscle behavior, despite recovery from pain, have been hypothesized to play a pathogenic role in the recurrence of LBP. This study aimed to identify the presence of lumbar muscle dysfunction during the remission of recurrent LBP, while performing a low-load trunk-extension movement.

Methods: Thirteen participants with unilateral recurrent LBP were tested at least 1 month after cessation of the previous LBP episode and were compared with a healthy control group without any history of LBP (n=13). Also, differences between previously painful and nonpainful sides were examined. Muscle functional magnetic resonance imaging, based on quantitative T2-imaging, was used to examine muscle tissue characteristics (T2 rest) and muscle recruitment (T2 shift) during prone trunk extension. The lumbar multifidus, erector spinae, quadratus lumborum, and psoas were bilaterally visualized on 2 lumbar levels using a T2-weighted (spin-echo multicontrast) magnetic resonance imaging sequence.

Results: Linear mixed model analysis revealed a significantly lower T2 rest (P=0.044) and a significantly higher T2 shift (P=0.034) solely for the multifidus in the LBP group compared with the control group. No significant differences between pain sides were found.

Discussion: Lower T2-rest values have been suggested to correlate with a conversion of the multifidus' fiber typing toward the glycolytic muscle spectrum. Elevated T2 shifts correspond with increased levels of metabolic activity in the multifidus in the LBP group, for which several hypotheses can be put forward. Taken together, these findings provide evidence of concurrent alterations in the multifidus structure and activity in individuals with unilateral recurrent LBP, despite being pain free and functionally recovered.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Low Back Pain / complications*
  • Low Back Pain / diagnosis
  • Low Back Pain / physiopathology*
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / physiopathology
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Male
  • Muscle Contraction*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiopathology*
  • Muscular Diseases / complications*
  • Muscular Diseases / diagnosis
  • Muscular Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Recurrence
  • Remission, Spontaneous
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sensitivity and Specificity