Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 156, Issue 1, pp 64–71 | Cite as

Pain differs from non-painful attention-demanding or stressful tasks in its effect on postural control patterns of trunk muscles

  • G. Lorimer MoseleyEmail author
  • M. K. Nicholas
  • Paul W. Hodges
Research Article


Pain changes postural activation of the trunk muscles. The cause of these changes is not known but one possibility relates to the information processing requirements and the stressful nature of pain. This study investigated this possibility by evaluating electromyographic activity (EMG) of the deep and superficial trunk muscles associated with voluntary rapid arm movement. Data were collected from control trials, trials during low back pain (LBP) elicited by injection of hypertonic saline into the back muscles, trials during a non-painful attention-demanding task, and during the same task that was also stressful. Pain did not change the reaction time (RT) of the movement, had variable effects on RT of the superficial trunk muscles, but consistently increased RT of the deepest abdominal muscle. The effect of the attention-demanding task was opposite: increased RT of the movement and the superficial trunk muscles but no effect on RT of the deep trunk muscles. Thus, activation of the deep trunk muscles occurred earlier relative to the movement. When the attention-demanding task was made stressful, the RT of the movement and superficial trunk muscles was unchanged but the RT of the deep trunk muscles was increased. Thus, the temporal relationship between deep trunk muscle activation and arm movement was restored. This means that although postural activation of the deep trunk muscles is not affected when central nervous system resources are limited, it is delayed when the individual is also under stress. However, a non-painful attention-demanding task does not replicate the effect of pain on postural control of the trunk muscles even when the task is stressful.


Experimental pain Attention Stress Back pain 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • G. Lorimer Moseley
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    • 4
    Email author
  • M. K. Nicholas
    • 4
  • Paul W. Hodges
    • 2
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of PhysiotherapyRoyal Brisbane HospitalHerstonAustralia
  2. 2.Prince of Wales Medical Research InstituteSydneyAustralia
  3. 3.Department of PhysiotherapyThe University of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia
  4. 4.Pain Management and Research CentreUniversity of Sydney and Royal North Shore HospitalSydneyAustralia

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