Association Between Sensorimotor Impairments and Functional Brain Changes in Patients With Low Back Pain: A Critical Review

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Abstract

Low back pain (LBP) coincides with sensorimotor impairments, for example, reduced lumbosacral tactile and proprioceptive acuity and postural control deficits. Recent functional magnetic resonance imaging studies suggest that sensorimotor impairments in LBP may be associated with brain changes. However, no consensus exists regarding the relationship between functional brain changes and sensorimotor behavior in LBP. Therefore, this review critically discusses the available functional magnetic resonance imaging studies on brain activation related to nonnociceptive somatosensory stimulation and motor performance in individuals with LBP. Four electronic databases were searched, yielding nine relevant studies. Patients with LBP showed reduced sensorimotor-related brain activation and a reorganized lumbar spine representation in higher-order (multi)sensory processing and motor regions, including primary and secondary somatosensory cortices, supplementary motor area, and superior temporal gyrus. These results may support behavioral findings of sensorimotor impairments in LBP. In addition, patients with LBP displayed widespread increased sensorimotor-evoked brain activation in regions often associated with abnormal pain processing. Overactivation in these regions could indicate an overresponsiveness to sensory inputs that signal potential harm to the spine, thereby inducing overgeneralized protective responses. Hence, functional brain changes could contribute to the development and recurrence of LBP. However, future studies investigating the causality between sensorimotor-related brain function and LBP are imperative.

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