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Differences in Pain Processing Between Patients with Chronic Low Back Pain, Recurrent Low Back Pain, and Fibromyalgia.

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By Goubert D, et al. • • November 8, 2017



The impairment in musculoskeletal structures in patients with low back pain (LBP) is often disproportionate to their complaint. Therefore, the need arises for exploration of alternative mechanisms contributing to the origin and maintenance of non-specific LBP.
The recent focus has been on central nervous system phenomena in LBP and the pathophysiological mechanisms underlying the various symptoms and characteristics of chronic pain. Knowledge concerning changes in pain processing in LBP remains ambiguous, partly due to the diversity in the LBP population.


The purpose of this study is to compare quantitative sensory assessment in different groups of LBP patients with regard to chronicity. Recurrent low back pain (RLBP), mild chronic low back pain (CLBP), and severe CLBP are compared on the one hand with healthy controls (HC), and on the other hand with fibromyalgia (FM) patients, in which abnormal pain processing has previously been reported.

STUDY DESIGN:  Cross-sectional study.

SETTING:  Department of Rehabilitation Sciences, Ghent University, Belgium.


Twenty-three RLBP, 15 mild CLBP, 16 severe CLBP, 26 FM, and 21 HC participated in this study. Quantitative sensory testing was conducted by manual pressure algometry and computer-controlled cuff algometry.
A manual algometer was used to evaluate hyperalgesia as well as temporal summation of pain and a cuff algometer was used to evaluate deep tissue hyperalgesia, the efficacy of the conditioned pain modulation and spatial summation of pain.


Pressure pain thresholds by manual algometry were significantly lower in FM compared to HC, RLBP, and severe CLBP. Temporal summation of pain was significantly higher in FM compared to HC and RLBP. Pain tolerance thresholds assessed by cuff algometry were significantly lower in FM compared to HC and RLBP and also in severe CLBP compared to RLBP. No significant differences between groups were found for spatial summation or conditioned pain modulation.


No psychosocial issues were taken into account for this study.


The present results suggest normal pain sensitivity in RLBP, but future research is needed. In mild and severe CLBP some findings of altered pain processing are evident, although to a lesser extent compared to FM patients. In conclusion, mild and severe CLBP presents within a spectrum, somewhere between completely healthy persons and FM patients, characterized by pain augmentation.
Full text available here.

Source:  Goubert D, Danneels L, Graven-Nielsen T, Descheemaeker F, Meeus M. Differences in Pain Processing Between Patients with Chronic Low Back Pain, Recurrent Low Back Pain, and Fibromyalgia. Pain Physician. 2017 May;20(4):307-318.

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