Negative pain-related cognitions are associated with persistence of low-back pain (LBP), but the mechanism underlying this association is not well understood. We propose that negative pain-related cognitions determine how threatening a motor task will be perceived, which in turn will affect how lumbar movements are performed, possibly with negative long-term effects on pain.
To assess the effect of postural threat on lumbar movement patterns in people with and without LBP, and to investigate whether this effect is associated with task-specific pain-related cognitions.
30 back-healthy participants and 30 participants with LBP performed consecutive two trials of a seated repetitive reaching movement (45 times). During the first trial participants were threatened with mechanical perturbations, during the second trial participants were informed that the trial would be unperturbed. Movement patterns were characterized by temporal variability (CyclSD), local dynamic stability (LDE) and spatial variability (meanSD) of the relative lumbar Euler angles. Pain-related cognition was assessed with the task-specific ‘Expected Back Strain’-scale (EBS). A three-way mixed Manova was used to assess the effect of Threat, Group (LBP vs control) and EBS (above vs below median) on lumbar movement patterns.
We found a main effect of threat on lumbar movement patterns. In the threat-condition, participants showed increased variability (MeanSDflexion-extension, p<0.000, η2 = 0.26; CyclSD, p = 0.003, η2 = 0.14) and decreased stability (LDE, p = 0.004, η2 = 0.14), indicating large effects of postural threat.
Postural threat increased variability and decreased stability of lumbar movements, regardless of group or EBS. These results suggest that perceived postural threat may underlie changes in motor behavior in patients with LBP. Since LBP is likely to impose such a threat, this could be a driver of changes in motor behavior in patients with LBP, as also supported by the higher spatial variability in the group with LBP and higher EBS in the reference condition.