Trunk stiffness decreases and trunk damping increases with experimental low back pain

Wolbert van den Hoorn*, Jacek Cholewicki, Michel W. Coppieters, David M. Klyne, Paul W. Hodges

*Corresponding author for this work

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Movement adaptations to low back pain (LBP) are believed to protect the painful area. Increased trunk stiffness and decreased trunk damping have been shown in people with recurrent LBP. However, no study has examined these properties using external force perturbations to the trunk during acute LBP when protective adaptations might be expected to have most relevance. Adaptations to an acute painful stimulus via unilateral injection of hypertonic saline into the right longissimus muscle were assessed using a trunk force perturbation paradigm and a mass-spring-damper model to describe effective trunk dynamical properties. Equal weights (15% body weight) were connected to the front and back of the trunk via a cable. Either one was dropped at random to perturb the trunk. Effective trunk dynamical properties were estimated in fourteen males (mean (standard deviation) age 25 (6) years) assuming that trunk movement can be modelled as a second order linear system. Effective trunk dynamical properties were compared before, during and after the experimentally induced painful period. Estimates of effective trunk stiffness (K) decreased and damping (B) increased during pain compared to both before ([mean contrast, 95% CI] K: −403 [−651 to −155] Nm−1, B: 28 [9–50] Nms−1) and after (K: −324 [−58 to −591] Nm−1, B: 20 [4–33] Nms−1) the experimentally induced painful period. We interpret our results to show that, when challenged by a step force perturbation, a healthy system adapts to noxious input by controlling trunk velocity rather than trunk displacement, in contrast to observations during remission from recurrent clinical LBP.

Original languageEnglish
Article number110053
Pages (from-to)1-7
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Biomechanics
Early online date28 Sept 2020
Publication statusPublished - 9 Nov 2020


  • Admittance
  • Hypertonic saline
  • Impedance
  • Nociception
  • Trunk control


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