The influence of low back pain on muscle activity and coordination during gait: a clinical and experimental study

Pain. 1996 Feb;64(2):231-240. doi: 10.1016/0304-3959(95)00115-8.


Chronic low back pain (CLBP) is a major clinical problem with a substantial socio-economical impact. Today, diagnosis and therapy are insufficient, and knowledge concerning interaction between musculoskeletal pain and motor performance is lacking. Most studies in this field have been performed under static conditions which may not represent CLBP patients' daily-life routines. A standardized way to study the sensory-motor interaction under controlled motor performances is to induce experimental muscle pain by i.m. injection of hypertonic saline. The aim of the present controlled study was to analyze and compare electromyographic (EMG) activity of and coordination between lumbar muscles (8 paraspinal recordings) during gait in 10 patients with CLBP and in 10 volunteers exposed to experimental back muscle pain induced by bolus injection of 5% hypertonic saline. When the results are compared to sex- and age-matched controls, the CLBP patients showed significantly increased EMG activity in the swing phase; a phase where the lumbar muscles are normally silent. These changes correlated significantly to the intensity of the back pain. Similar EMG patterns were found in the experimental study together with a reduced peak EMG activity in the period during double stance where the back muscles are normally active. Generally, these changes were localized ipsilaterally to the site of pain induction. The clinical and experimental findings indicate that musculoskeletal pain modulates motor performance during gait probably via reflex pathways. Initially, these EMG changes may be interpreted as a functional adaptation to muscle pain, but the consequences of chronic altered muscle performance are not known. New possibilities to monitor and investigate altered motor performance may help to develop more rational therapies for CLBP patients.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Electromyography
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality / physiology
  • Gait / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Low Back Pain / chemically induced
  • Low Back Pain / physiopathology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiopathology*
  • Pain Measurement
  • Saline Solution, Hypertonic


  • Saline Solution, Hypertonic