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Eur J Pain. 2003;7(1):9-21.

Disuse and deconditioning in chronic low back pain: concepts and hypotheses on contributing mechanisms.

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Rehabilitation Foundation Limburg, P.O. Box 88, 6430 AB Hoensbroek, The Netherlands.


For years enhancement of a patient's level of physical fitness has been an important goal in rehabilitation treatment in chronic low back pain (CLBP), based on the hypothesis that physical deconditioning contributes to the chronicity of low back pain. However, whether this hypothesis in CLBP holds is not clear. In this paper, possible mechanisms that contribute to the development of physical deconditioning in CLBP, such as avoidance behaviour and suppressive behaviour, are discussed. The presence of both deconditioning-related physiological changes, such as muscle atrophy, changes in metabolism, osteoporosis and obesity as well as deconditioning related functional changes, such as a decrease in cardiovascular capacity, a decrease in muscle strength and impaired motor control in patients with CLBP are discussed. Results of studies on the level of physical activities in daily life (PAL) and the level of physical fitness in patients with CLBP compared to healthy controls were reviewed. In studies on PAL results that were either lower or comparable to healthy subjects were found. The presence of disuse (i.e., a decrease in the level of physical activities in daily life) in patients with CLBP was not confirmed. The inconclusive findings in the papers reviewed may partly be explained by different measurement methods used in research on PAL in chronic pain. The level of physical fitness of CLBP patients also appeared to be lower or comparable to the fitness level of healthy persons. A discriminating factor between fit and unfit patients with back pain may be the fact that fit persons more frequently are still employed, and as such may be involved more in physical activity. Lastly some suggestions are made for further research in the field of disuse and deconditioning in CLBP.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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