Uneven intervertebral motion sharing is related to disc degeneration and is greater in patients with chronic, non-specific low back pain: an in vivo, cross-sectional cohort comparison of intervertebral dynamics using quantitative fluoroscopy
Purpose: Evidence of intervertebral mechanical markers in chronic, non-specific low back pain (CNSLBP) is lacking. This research used dynamic fluoroscopic studies to compare intervertebral angular motion sharing inequality and variability (MSI and MSV) during continuous lumbar motion in CNSLBP patients and controls. Passive recumbent and active standing protocols were used and the relationships of these variables to age and disc degeneration were assessed. Methods: Twenty patients with CNSLBP and 20 matched controls received quantitative fluoroscopic lumbar spine examinations using a standardised protocol for data collection and image analysis. Composite disc degeneration (CDD) scores comprising the sum of Kellgren and Lawrence grades from L2–S1 were obtained. Indices of intervertebral motion sharing inequality (MSI) and variability (MSV) were derived and expressed in units of proportion of lumbar range of motion from outward and return motion sequences during lying (passive) and standing (active) lumbar bending and compared between patients and controls. Relationships between MSI, MSV, age and CDD were assessed by linear correlation. Results: MSI was significantly greater in the patients throughout the intervertebral motion sequences of recumbent flexion (0.29 vs. 0.22, p = 0.02) and when flexion, extension, left and right motion were combined to give a composite measure (1.40 vs. 0.92, p = 0.04). MSI correlated substantially with age (R = 0.85, p = 0.004) and CDD (R = 0.70, p = 0.03) in lying passive investigations in patients and not in controls. There were also substantial correlations between MSV and age (R = 0.77, p = 0.01) and CDD (R = 0.85, p = 0.004) in standing flexion in patients and not in controls. Conclusion: Greater inequality and variability of motion sharing was found in patients with CNSLBP than in controls, confirming previous studies and suggesting a biomechanical marker for the disorder at intervertebral level. The relationship between disc degeneration and MSI was augmented in patients, but not in controls during passive motion and similarly for MSV during active motion, suggesting links between in vivo disc mechanics and pain generation.