A Longitudinal Observational Clinical Study of Neurophysiological and Patient-Reported Responses to a Program of Physiotherapy for Acute and Subacute Low Back Pain

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Objectives:The purpose of this study was to document the baseline neurophysiological status (skin conductance activity levels) of patients presenting for physiotherapy with acute and subacute low back pain (symptoms of up to 12 weeks’ duration) and to observe the magnitude and direction of sympathetic nervous system (SNS) changes (skin conductance responses [SCRs]) occurring as a result of receiving guideline-endorsed physiotherapy treatment.Methods:A pragmatic, prospective, longitudinal, observational study recording SNS skin conductance (SC) responses and patient reported outcome measure changes to a program of guideline-endorsed physiotherapy treatment for low back pain symptoms of up to 12 weeks’ duration. Sixty patients received a guideline-endorsed physiotherapy treatment program. Continuous neurophysiological recordings of SC activity levels were taken throughout each treatment. Patient reported outcome measure data were extracted from inception, midpoint, and discharge. Within and between treatment analyses determined the nature of SC changes and correlations to longitudinal changes in pain and function. Skin conductance changes were measured within and between treatment episodes at treatment inception, midpoint, and discharge and observed correlations between the magnitude of SCRs, pain abatement (numeric pain rating scale), and functional restoration (Oswestry Disability Index).Results:Skin conductance changes were significant during all “treatment” periods (P = .044), with the greatest magnitude of sympathoexcitatory responses occurring at inception (219%). The treatment modality providing the maximum SNS response was a high-velocity lumbar rotation manipulation. Positive correlations were identified between SCRs, Oswestry Disability Index improvements (r = 0.82, P < .0005), and pain abatement (r = 0.459, P < .0005).Conclusions:Patients with low back pain exhibited neurophysiological treatment responses indicative of a symptom-related neuroplastic state of dorsal horn sensitization that may be receptive to early manual therapy intervention.

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