Trunk resistance to mechanical perturbations, associations with low back pain, pain-related cognitions and movement precision

Authors Meta Wildenbeest, Henri Kiers, Matthijs Tuijt, Maarten Prins, Jaap van Dieën
Published in Human Movement Science
Publication date 2023
Type Article


Background: Pain-related cognitions are associated with motor control changes in people with chronic low-back pain (CLBP). The mechanism underlying this association is unclear. We propose that perceived threat increases muscle-spindle-reflex-gains, which reduces the effect of mechanical perturbations, and simultaneously decreases movement precision. Aim: To evaluate effects of CLBP and pain-related cognitions on the impact of mechanical perturbations on trunk movement, and associations between these perturbation effects and movement precision. Methods: 30 participants with CLBP and 30 healthy controls, performed two consecutive trials of a seated repetitive reaching task. During both trials participants were warned for mechanical perturbations, which were only administered during the second trial. The perturbation effect was characterized by the deviation of the trajectory of the T8 vertebra relative to the sacrum. Trunk movement precision was expressed as tracking error during a trunk movement target tracking task. We assessed pain-related cognitions with the task-specific ‘Expected Back Strain’-scale (EBS). We used a two-way-Anova to assess the effect of Group (CLBP vs back-healthy) and dichotomized EBS (higher vs lower) on the perturbation effect, and a Pearson's correlation to assess associations between perturbation effects and movement precision. Findings: Higher EBS was associated with smaller perturbation effects (p ≤ 0.011). A negative correlation was found between the perturbation effect and the tracking error, in the higher EBS-group (r = −0.5, p = 0.013). Interpretation: These results demonstrate that pain-related cognitions influence trunk movement control and support the idea that more negative pain-related cognitions lead to an increased resistance against perturbations, at the expense of movement precision.

On this publication contributed

  • Henri Kiers | Researcher | Research group Lifestyle and Health
    Henri Kiers
    • Researcher
    • Research group: Lifestyle and Health
  • Matthijs Tuijt | Researcher
    Matthijs Tuijt
    • Lecturer-researcher
    • Research group: Innovation of Movement Care

Language English
Published in Human Movement Science
Key words psychological risk factors, motor control, perturbation response, variability, neuromotor noise
Digital Object Identifier 10.1016/j.humov.2023.103159