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PLoS One. 2016 Oct 26;11(10):e0165478. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0165478. eCollection 2016.

Physiological and Psychological Predictors of Short-Term Disability in Workers with a History of Low Back Pain: A Longitudinal Study.

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Département de psychologie, Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières, Trois-Rivières, Québec, Canada.
Département des sciences de l'activité physique, Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières, Trois-Rivières, Québec, Canada.
Département de chiropratique, Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières, Trois-Rivières, Québec, Canada.


Despite an elusive pathophysiology, common characteristics are often observed in individuals with chronic low back pain (LBP). These include psychological symptoms, altered pain perception, altered pain modulation and altered muscle activation. These factors have been explored as possible determinants of disability, either separately or in cross-sectional studies, but were never assessed in a single longitudinal study. Therefore, the objective was to determine the relative contribution of psychological and neurophysiological factors to future disability in individuals with past LBP. The study included two experimental sessions (baseline and six months later) to assess cutaneous heat pain and pain tolerance thresholds, pain inhibition, as well as trunk muscle activation. Both sessions included the completion of validated questionnaires to determine clinical pain, disability, pain catastrophizing, fear-avoidance beliefs and pain vigilance. One hundred workers with a history of LBP and 19 healthy individuals took part in the first experimental session. The second experimental session was exclusively conducted on workers with a history of LBP (77/100). Correlation analyses between initial measures and disability at six months were conducted, and measures significantly associated with disability were used in multiple regression analyses. A first regression analysis showed that psychological symptoms contributed unique variance to future disability (R2 = 0.093, p = .009). To control for the fluctuating nature of LBP, a hierarchical regression was conducted while controlling for clinical pain at six months (R2 = 0.213, p < .001) where pain inhibition contributed unique variance in the second step of the regression (R2 change = 0.094, p = .005). These results indicate that pain inhibition processes may constitute potential targets for treatment to alleviate future disability in individuals with past or present LBP. Then again, the link between psychological symptoms and pain inhibition needs to be clarified as both of these factors are linked together and influence disability in their own way.

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