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Corticospinal Excitability in Patients With Chronic Low Back Pain

Strutton, Paul H PhD*; Theodorou, Sophie MSc; Catley, Maria; McGregor, Alison H PhD*; Davey, Nick J PhD

Journal of Spinal Disorders & Techniques: October 2005 - Volume 18 - Issue 5 - p 420-424
doi: 10.1097/01.bsd.0000169063.84628.fe
Original Article
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Objective: This study was designed to investigate corticospinal excitability of lumbar muscles using transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) in patients with chronic low back pain and correlate this with self-rated measures of disability and pain.

Methods: Twenty-four patients with chronic low back pain and 11 healthy control subjects were used in this study. TMS was delivered through an angled double-cone coil, with its cross-over on the vertex and a posterior-to-anterior current flow in the brain. Electromyographic (EMG) recordings were made from erector spinae (ES) muscles at the fourth lumbar level. Motor cortical excitability was assessed using motor threshold (MTh) for motor evoked potentials (MEPs) and threshold for silent period (SP) during facilitation of the back muscles. Latency, duration, and area of MEPs and SPs were also measured.

Results: The latency, duration, and size of MEPs and SPs did not differ between the left and right ES muscles in either the patients or the control subjects and also did not differ between the patients and the control subjects. However, there was a significantly higher MTh and threshold for the SP in the patients as compared with the control subjects; the full significance of this requires further investigation. Interestingly, there was a positive correlation between the self-rated measure of disability (the Oswestry Disability Index score) and both the MTh and the threshold for the SP in the patients. There was also a positive correlation between the self-rated index of back pain and the threshold for the SP in the patients. This finding of an association between clinical and neurophysiologic measures reinforces the need for further research to establish the clinical relevance of these rises in MTh and SP threshold.

Conclusions: In summary, this study has revealed that corticospinal excitability, driving ES muscles close to the site of pain, is lowered in patients with chronic low back pain.

From the *Department of Musculoskeletal Surgery, Division of Surgery, Anaesthetics, and Intensive Care, Faculty of Medicine, Imperial College London, Charing Cross Campus, London, UK, and †Department of Movement and Balance, Division of Neuroscience and Psychological Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, Imperial College London, Charing Cross Campus, London, UK.

Received for publication March 11, 2005; accepted April 27, 2005.

Supported by the Arthritis Research Campaign.

We dedicate this article to Nick Davey who tragically died this year. He was an inspiration to this work and a dearly loved colleague and friend.

Reprints: Dr. P. H. Strutton, Department of Musculoskeletal Surgery, Division of Surgery, Anaesthetics, and Intensive Care, Faculty of Medicine, Imperial College London, Charing Cross Campus, London W6 8RP, UK (e-mail: p.strutton@imperial.ac.uk).

© 2005 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.