Fear of Movement Is Related to Trunk Stiffness in Low Back Pain

PLoS One. 2013 Jun 27;8(6):e67779. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0067779. Print 2013.


Background: Psychological features have been related to trunk muscle activation patterns in low back pain (LBP). We hypothesised higher pain-related fear would relate to changes in trunk mechanical properties, such as higher trunk stiffness.

Objectives: To evaluate the relationship between trunk mechanical properties and psychological features in people with recurrent LBP.

Methods: The relationship between pain-related fear (Tampa Scale for Kinesiophobia, TSK; Photograph Series of Daily Activities, PHODA-SeV; Fear Avoidance Beliefs Questionnaire, FABQ; Pain Catastrophizing Scale, PCS) and trunk mechanical properties (estimated from the response of the trunk to a sudden sagittal plane forwards or backwards perturbation by unpredictable release of a load) was explored in a case-controlled study of 14 LBP participants. Regression analysis (r (2)) tested the linear relationships between pain-related fear and trunk mechanical properties (trunk stiffness and damping). Mechanical properties were also compared with t-tests between groups based on stratification according to high/low scores based on median values for each psychological measure.

Results: Fear of movement (TSK) was positively associated with trunk stiffness (but not damping) in response to a forward perturbation (r(2) = 0.33, P = 0.03), but not backward perturbation (r(2) = 0.22, P = 0.09). Other pain-related fear constructs (PHODA-SeV, FABQ, PCS) were not associated with trunk stiffness or damping. Trunk stiffness was greater for individuals with high kinesiophobia (TSK) for forward (P = 0.03) perturbations, and greater with forward perturbation for those with high fear avoidance scores (FABQ-W, P = 0.01).

Conclusions: Fear of movement is positively (but weakly) associated with trunk stiffness. This provides preliminary support an interaction between biological and psychological features of LBP, suggesting this condition may be best understood if these domains are not considered in isolation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Fear / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Low Back Pain / physiopathology
  • Low Back Pain / psychology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Movement / physiology*
  • Pain Measurement
  • Phobic Disorders / psychology*
  • Psychometrics
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Torso / physiopathology*

Supplementary concepts

  • Phobia, Specific

Grants and funding

NK is supported by a PhD scholarship from The CCRE SPINE, The University of Queensland International Research Tuition Award and the American Academy of Orthopaedic Manual Physical Therapists - Cardon Grant Award. PH is supported by a Senior Principal Research Fellowship from the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia. The authors have no financial or personal relationships with other people or organisations that could inappropriately bias their work. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.