Clinical models of chronic low back pain (cLBP) highlight the role of excessive attention to pain and kinesiophobia on the origin of disability. At the motor control level, various mechanisms are involved in the impairments observed in patients with cLBP. We aimed to assess the role of maladaptative attentional behaviors by using a complex systems approach and a visual display as a distraction during walking. Sixteen patients with cLBP with no previous surgery or significant leg pain and 16 healthy matched controls were included. Patients walked on a treadmill at preferred walking speed with and without distraction. Stride time (ST) fractal complexity was assessed using detrended fluctuation analysis. A two-way analysis of variance with repeated measures on distraction was performed on fractal exponents. We found a significant group × distraction interaction effect on fractal complexity of ST series (F(1,30) = 9.972, P = 0.004). Post hoc analysis showed that, without distraction, patients with cLBP had significantly lower ST complexity than controls, but when distracted, they regained gait complexity, recovering the level of controls. Our results suggest that excessive attention to pain causes loss of complexity and adaptability in cLBP and explain alterations of motor control with pain. Fractal analysis seems to be a promising method to explore movement variability and individual adaptability in musculoskeletal disorders.Copyright © 2021 International Association for the Study of Pain.
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