Pain intensity and abdominal muscle activation during walking in patients with low back pain: The STROBE study

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Nonspecific low back pain (LBP) is a common musculoskeletal problem that is intensified during physical activity. Patients with LBP have been reported to change their abdominal muscle activity during walking; however, the effects of pain intensity, disability level, and fear-avoidance belief on this relationship have not been evaluated. Thus, we compared abdominal muscle activity in patients with LBP and asymptomatic controls, and assessed the impact of pain intensity, disability level, and fear-avoidance belief.

Thirty patients with LBP divided into groups reporting low (LLBP) and high-pain intensity low back pain (HLBP), and 15 participants without LBP were recruited. LBP patients’ self-reported pain intensity, disability, and fear-avoidance belief were recorded. To examine abdominal muscle activity (rectus abdominis [RA], internal [IO], and external oblique [EO] muscles) during walking, all subjects walked at a self-selected speed. Abdominal muscle activity (RA, IO, and EO) was compared among groups (LLBP, HLBP, and controls) in different phases of walking (double support vs swing). Relationships between abdominal muscle activity and clinical measures (pain intensity, disability, fear-avoidance belief) were analyzed using partial correlation analysis.

Right IO muscle activity during walking was significantly decreased in LLBP and HLBP compared with controls in certain walking phase. Partial correlation coefficients showed significant correlations between fear-avoidance belief and right EO activity (r = .377, P < .05) and between disability index and left IO activity (r = .377, P < .05) in patients with LBP. No significant difference was found in abdominal muscle activity in walking between patients with LLBP and HLBP (P > .05).

This study demonstrated decreased IO muscle activity during certain walking phases in LLBP and HLBP compared with asymptomatic participants. Although altered IO muscle activity during walking was observed in patients with LBP, no changes were found with other abdominal muscles (EO, RA). Thus, these results provide useful information about abdominal muscle activity during walking in patients with LBP.

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