Low back pain (LBP) could be associated with a reduced lumbar mobility. For the evaluation of lumbar flexibility, parameters such as finger-floor distance (FFD) are historically established. However, the extent of the correlation of FFD to lumbar flexibility or other involved joint kinematics such as pelvic motion, as well as the influence of LBP, is not yet known. We conducted a prospective cross-sectional observation study with 523 participants included (167 with LBP > 12 weeks, 356 asymptomatic). LBP-participants were matched for sex, age, height, and body-mass-index with an asymptomatic control cohort, resulting in two cohorts with 120 participants each. The FFD in maximal trunk flexion was measured. The Epionics-SPINE measurement-system was used to evaluate the pelvic and lumbar Range-of-Flexion (RoF), and the correlation of FFD to pelvic- and lumbar-RoF was evaluated. In an asymptomatic sub-cohort of 12 participants, we examined the individual correlation of FFD to pelvic- and lumbar-RoF under gradual trunk flexion. Participants with LBP showed a significantly reduced pelvic-RoF (p < 0.001) and lumbar-RoF (p < 0.001) as well as an increased FFD (p < 0.001) compared to the asymptomatic control cohort. Asymptomatic participants exhibited a weak correlation of FFD to pelvic-RoF and lumbar-RoF (r < 0.500). LBP patients revealed a moderate correlation of FFD to pelvic-RoF (male: p < 0.001, r = -0.653, female: p < 0.001, r = -0.649) and sex-dependent to lumbar-RoF (male: p < 0.001, r = -0.604, female: p = 0.012, r = -0.256). In the sub-cohort of 12 participants, gradual trunk flexion showed a strong correlation of FFD to pelvic-RoF (p < 0.001, r = -0.895) but a moderate correlation to lumbar-RoF (p < 0.001, r = -0.602). The differences in FFD in an individual patient, assuming consistent hip function, may be attributed partially to the differences in lumbar flexibility. However, the absolute values of FFD do not qualify as a measure for lumbar mobility. Rather, using validated non-invasive measurement devices should be considered.
Keywords: clinical examination; fingertip-to-floor distance; lbp; lumbar flexion; lumbar mobility; spinal mobility.