Analgesic Effects of Compression at Trigger Points Are Associated With Reduction of Frontal Polar Cortical Activity as Well as Functional Connectivity Between the Frontal Polar Area and Insula in Patients With Chronic Low Back Pain: A Randomized Trial

Front Syst Neurosci. 2019 Nov 13;13:68. doi: 10.3389/fnsys.2019.00068. eCollection 2019.


Background: Compression of myofascial trigger points (MTrPs) in muscles is reported to reduce chronic musculoskeletal pain. Although the prefrontal cortex (PFC) is implicated in development of chronic pain, the mechanisms of how MTrP compression at low back regions affects PFC activity remain under debate. In this study, we investigated effects of MTrP compression on brain hemodynamics and EEG oscillation in subjects with chronic low back pain.

Methods: The study was a prospective, randomized, parallel-group trial and an observer and subject-blinded clinical trial. Thirty-two subjects with chronic low back pain were divided into two groups: subjects with compression at MTrPs (n = 16) or those with non-MTrPs (n = 16). Compression at MTrP or non-MTrP for 30 s was applied five times, and hemodynamic activity (near-infrared spectroscopy; NIRS) and EEGs were simultaneously recorded during the experiment.

Results: The results indicated that compression at MTrPs significantly (1) reduced subjective pain (P < 0.05) and increased the pressure pain threshold (P < 0.05), (2) decreased the NIRS hemodynamic activity in the frontal polar area (pPFC) (P < 0.05), and (3) increased the current source density (CSD) of EEG theta oscillation in the anterior part of the PFC (P < 0.05). CSD of EEG theta oscillation was negatively correlated with NIRS hemodynamic activity in the pPFC (P < 0.05). Furthermore, functional connectivity in theta bands between the medial pPFC and insula cortex was significantly decreased in the MTrP group (P < 0.05). The functional connectivity between those regions was positively correlated with subjective low back pain (P < 0.05).

Discussion: The results suggest that MTrP compression at the lumbar muscle modulates pPFC activity and functional connectivity between the pPFC and insula, which may relieve chronic musculoskeletal pain.

Trial registration: This trial was registered at University Hospital Medical Information Network Clinical Trials Registry (UMIN000033913) on 27 August 2018, at https://upload.

Keywords: chronic low back pain; functional connectivity; hemodynamic activity; myofascial trigger point; oscillation; prefrontal cortex.