The Influence of Centralization and Directional Preference on Spinal Control in Patients With Nonspecific Low Back Pain

J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2016 Apr;46(4):258-69. doi: 10.2519/jospt.2016.6158. Epub 2016 Jan 26.


Study design: Prospective cohort, test-retest design.

Background: Directional preference (DP) with centralization (CEN) and DP without CEN are common pain-pattern responses assessed by Mechanical Diagnosis and Therapy (MDT). Although there is evidence that MDT can reduce pain and disability in the short term by treating the patient with direction-specific exercises concordant with the patient's DP, the mechanism responsible for this is unclear.

Objective: To determine whether clinical signs of impaired spinal control improve immediately after eliciting a DP-with-CEN response or a DP-without-CEN response in patients with nonspecific low back pain.

Methods: Participants underwent a standardized MDT assessment and were classified into the following pain-pattern subgroups: DP with CEN, DP without CEN, or no DP. Clinical signs of impaired spinal control were assessed pre-MDT assessment and post-MDT assessment by an independent examiner. Four spinal control tests were conducted: aberrant lumbar movements while bending forward, the active straight leg raise (ASLR) test, the Trendelenburg test, and the prone instability test. Differences in spinal control pre-MDT assessment and post-MDT assessment were calculated for the 3 pain-pattern subgroups and compared with chi-square tests. We hypothesized that a larger proportion of patients in the DP-with-CEN subgroup would exhibit improved spinal control than patients categorized as DP without CEN or no DP.

Results: Of 114 patients recruited, 51 patients (44.7%) were categorized as DP with CEN, 23 (20.2%) as DP without CEN, and 40 (35.1%) as no DP. Before MDT assessment, between 28.9% (Trendelenburg test) and 63.7% (ASLR test) of patients showed impaired spinal control. After MDT assessment, a larger proportion of patients in the DP-with-CEN subgroup (43%) showed improvement than those in the no-DP subgroup (7%) on aberrant lumbar movements (P = .02). Likewise, more patients in the DP-with-CEN subgroup (50%) improved on the ASLR test than those in the no-DP subgroup (8%, P<.01) or the DP-without-CEN subgroup (7%, P = .01). Changes in Trendelenburg test and prone instability test outcomes did not reach statistical significance.

Conclusion: Immediately following MDT assessment, a larger proportion of patients with a DP-with-CEN pain pattern showed improvement in clinical signs of spinal control compared to patients with a DP-without-CEN or no-DP pain pattern. The current study was registered in the Dutch trial registry at (NTR4246).

Level of evidence: Therapy, level 2b.

Keywords: Mechanical Diagnosis and Therapy; motor control; physical therapy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Exercise Therapy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Low Back Pain / diagnosis
  • Low Back Pain / physiopathology*
  • Low Back Pain / therapy
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / physiopathology*
  • Male
  • Prospective Studies
  • Range of Motion, Articular

Associated data

  • NTR/NTR4246