There is a long-held belief that physical activities such as lifting with a flexed spine is generally harmful for the back and can cause low back pain (LBP), potentially reinforcing fear avoidance beliefs underlying pain-related fear. In chronic LBP patients, pain-related fear has been shown to be associated with reduced lumbar range of motion during lifting, suggesting a protective response to pain. However, despite short term beneficial effects for tissue health, recent evidence suggests that maintaining a protective trunk movement strategy may also pose a risk for (persistent) LBP due to possible pro-nociceptive consequences of altered spinal motion, potentially leading to increased loading on lumbar tissues. Yet, it is unknown if similar protective movement strategies already exist in pain-free individuals which would yield potential insights into the role of fear avoidance beliefs in motor behavior in the absence of pain. Therefore, the aim of this study is to test whether fear avoidance beliefs influence spinal motion during lifting in a healthy cohort of pain-free adults without a history of chronic pain. The study subjects (N=57) filled out several pain-related fear questionnaires and were asked to perform a lifting task (5kg-box). High-resolution spinal kinematics were assessed using an optical motion capturing system. Time-sensitive analyses were performed based on statistical parametric mapping. The results demonstrated time-specific and negative relationships between self-report measures of pain-related fear and lumbar spine flexion angles during lifting, indicating potential unfavorable interactions between psychological factors and spinal motion during lifting in pain-free subjects.

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PubMed