Background: Voluntary lumbo-pelvic control is compromised in patients with back pain. Loss of proprioceptive acuity is one contributor to decreased control. Several reasons for decreased proprioceptive acuity have been proposed, but the integrity of cortical body maps has been overlooked. We investigated whether tactile acuity, a clear clinical signature of primary sensory cortex organisation, relates to lumbopelvic control in people with back pain.
Methods: Forty-five patients with back pain and 45 age and gender matched healthy controls participated in this cross sectional study. Tactile acuity at the back was assessed using two-point discrimination (TPD) threshold in vertical and horizontal directions. Voluntary motor control was assessed using an established battery of clinical tests.
Results: Patients performed worse on the voluntary lumbopelvic tasks than healthy controls did (p<0.001). TPD threshold was larger in patients (mean ± SD = 61mm ± 13mm) than in healthy controls (44mm ± 10mm). Moreover, larger TPD threshold was positively related to worse performance on the voluntary lumbopelvic tasks (Pearsons r= 0.49; p<0.001).
Discussion: Tactile acuity, a clear clinical signature of primary sensory cortex organisation, relates to voluntary lumbopelvic control. This relationship raises the possibility that the former contributes to the latter, in which case training tactile acuity may aid recovery and assist in achieving normal motor performance after back injury.