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Investigating Differences In Trunk Muscle Activity In Non-specific Chronic Low Back Pain Subgroups And No-low Back Pain Controls During Functional Tasks: A Case-control Study

Rebecca Hemming, Liba Sheeran, Robert van Deursen, Valerie Sparkes

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Abstract Background Trunk muscle dysfunction is often regarded as a key feature of non-specific chronic low back pain (NSCLBP) despite being poorly understood and variable with increases, decreases and no change in muscle activity reported. Differences in thoraco-lumbar kinematics have been observed in motor control impairment NSCLBP subgroups (Flexion Pattern, Active Extension Pattern) during static postures and dynamic activities. However, potential differences in muscle activity during functional tasks has not been established in these subgroups to date. Methods A case-control study design recruited 50 NSCLBP subjects (27 Flexion Pattern, 23 Active Extension Pattern) and 28 healthy individuals. Surface electromyography determined muscle activity during functional tasks: reaching upwards, step-down, step-up, lifting and replacing a box, stand-to-sit, sit-to-stand, bending to retrieve (and returning from retrieving) a pen from the floor. Normalised (% sub-maximal voluntary contraction) mean amplitude electromyography of bilateral musculature (transversus abdominis/internal oblique, external oblique, superficial lumbar multifidus and longissimus thoracis) was analysed using Kruskal-Wallis and post-hoc Mann-Whitney U tests. Results Transversus abdominis/internal oblique activity was significantly increased in the Flexion Pattern group compared to controls during stand-to-sit (p = 0.009) on the left side only. External oblique activity was significantly greater in the Active Extension Pattern group compared to controls during box lift (p = 0.016) on the right side only. Significantly greater activity was identified in the right Superficial lumbar multifidus during step up (p = 0.029), reach up (p = 0.013) and box replace (p = 0.007) in the Active Extension Pattern group compared to controls. However left-sided superficial lumbar multifidus activity was significantly greater in the Flexion Pattern group (compared to controls) only during stand-to-sit (p = 0.009). No significant differences were observed in longissimus thoracis activity bilaterally during any task. No significant differences between NSCLBP subgroups were observed. Conclusions Muscle activity in these NSCLBP subgroups appears to be highly variable during functional tasks with no clear pattern of activity identified. The findings reflect inconsistencies and variability in trunk muscle activity previously observed in these NSCLBP subgroups. Further work evaluating ratios of muscle activity and changes in muscle activity throughout task duration is warranted.