Reduced task-induced variations in the distribution of activity across back muscle regions in individuals with low back pain

Pain. 2014 May;155(5):944-953. doi: 10.1016/j.pain.2014.01.027. Epub 2014 Feb 3.


This study investigated change in the distribution of lumbar erector spinae muscle activity and pressure pain sensitivity across the low back in individuals with low back pain (LBP) and healthy controls. Surface electromyographic (EMG) signals were recorded from multiple locations over the lumbar erector spinae muscle with a 13×5 grid of electrodes from 19 people with chronic nonspecific LBP and 17 control subjects as they performed a repetitive lifting task. The EMG root mean square (RMS) was computed for each location of the grid to form a map of the EMG amplitude distribution. Pressure pain thresholds (PPT) were recorded before and after the lifting task over a similar area of the back. For the control subjects, the EMG RMS progressively increased more in the caudal region of the lumbar erector spinae during the repetitive task, resulting in a shift in the distribution of muscle activity. In contrast, the distribution of muscle activity remained unaltered in the LBP group despite an overall increase in EMG amplitude. PPT was lower in the LBP group after completion of the repetitive task compared to baseline (average across all locations: pre: 268.0±165.9 kPa; post: 242.0±166.7 kPa), whereas no change in PPT over time was observed for the control group (320.1±162.1 kPa; post: 322.0±179.5 kPa). The results demonstrate that LBP alters the normal adaptation of lumbar erector spinae muscle activity to exercise, which occurs in the presence of exercise-induced hyperalgesia. Reduced variability of muscle activity may have important implications for the provocation and recurrence of LBP due to repetitive tasks.

Keywords: Exercise; Low back pain; Multichannel EMG; Pressure pain threshold.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Back Muscles / physiopathology*
  • Electromyography
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Low Back Pain / physiopathology*
  • Lumbosacral Region / physiopathology*
  • Male
  • Pain Threshold / physiology*
  • Pressure
  • Weight-Bearing / physiology
  • Young Adult