Not all movements are equal: Differences in the variability of trunk motor behavior between people with and without low back pain-A systematic review with descriptive synthesis

PLoS One. 2023 Sep 8;18(9):e0286895. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0286895. eCollection 2023.


Background: Differences in variability of trunk motor behavior between people with and without low back pain (LBP) have been reported in the literature. However, the direction and consistency of these differences remain unclear. Understanding variability of trunk motor behavior between individuals with LBP and those without is crucial to better understand the impact of LBP and potentially optimize treatment outcomes. Identifying such differences may help tailor therapeutic interventions.

Objective: This systematic review aims to answer the question: Is variability of trunk motor behavior different between people with and without LBP and if so, do people with LBP show more or less variability? Furthermore, we addressed the question whether the results are dependent on characteristics of the patient group, the task performed and the type of variability measure.

Methods: This study was registered in PROSPERO (CRD42020180003). A comprehensive systematic literature search was performed by searching PubMed, Embase, Cinahl, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, Web of Science and Sport Discus. Studies were eligible if they (1) included a LBP group and a control group, (2) included adults with non-specific low back pain of any duration and (3) measured kinematic variability, EMG variability and/or kinetic variability. Risk of Bias was evaluated and a descriptive synthesis was performed.

Results: Thirty-nine studies were included, thirty-one of which were included in the descriptive synthesis. In most studies and experimental conditions, variability did not significantly differ between groups. When significant differences were found, less variability in patients with LBP was more frequently reported than more variability, especially in gait-related tasks.

Conclusions: Given the considerable risk of bias of the included studies and the clinical characteristics of the participants with low severity scores for pain, disability and psychological measures, there is insufficient evidence to draw firm conclusions.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Control Groups
  • Evidence Gaps
  • Gait
  • Humans
  • Low Back Pain*
  • Movement

Grants and funding

Florian Abu Bakar was funded by a doctoral grand for teachers from the Dutch Organization for Scientific Research (NWO, grant number: 023.011.018). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. The other authors received no specific funding tor this work.