The current study assessed the role of hypervigilance for bodily sensations in the back in long-term low back pain problems.
People with chronic low back pain, recurrent low back pain, and no low back pain were compared on the extent to which they attended to somatosensory stimuli on the back during a movement task. To measure hypervigilance, somatosensory event-related potentials (SEPs) to task-irrelevant tactile stimuli on the back were measured when preparing movements in either a threatening or a neutral condition, indicated by a cue signaling possible pain on the back during movement or not.
Results showed stronger attending to stimuli on the back in the threat condition than in the neutral condition, as reflected by increased amplitude of the N96 SEP. However, this effect did not differ between groups. Similarly, for all 3 groups the amplitude of the P172 was larger for the threatening condition, suggesting a more general state of arousal resulting in increased somatosensory responsiveness. No significant associations were found between somatosensory attending to the back and theorized antecedents such as pain catastrophizing, pain-related fear, and pain vigilance.
The current study confirmed that individuals preparing a movement attended more toward somatosensory stimuli at the lower back when anticipating back pain during the movement, as measured by the N96 SEP. However, no differences were found between participants with chronic low back pain or recurrent low back pain, or the pain-free controls.