Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Fear feeds the pain

People suffering from lumbago do not move as healthy people do. The pain and the fear of it change their way of moving. This partially explains how acute lumbago can in some cases become chronic. A researcher supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation has shown that patients suffer less if they are reassured.

According to the statistics, only 20% of the population in industrialised countries maintain that they have never experienced back pain. The majority of people suffer at least once in their lives from lumbago, an affliction characterised by pain between the twelfth rib and the buttocks crease. Lumbago is mainly caused by the manipulation of heavy objects, bad posture, stress or a lack of physical activity.

Patients generally recover within six to twelve weeks. However, for reasons that are still unknown, the illness becomes chronic and the prospects of recovery uncertain for a minority of the patients. The treatment of such patients accounts for 85% of the total costs incurred by cases of lumbago, i.e. approximately CHF 6 billion per year in Switzerland.

Yves Henchoz and his colleagues at the University of Quebec in Trois-Rivières, Canada, wondered what role the fear of pain might play in the chronification of the illness: does fear change the activity of the trunk muscles and the way in which movements are executed? They asked 22 people in good health and 22 patients suffering from chronic lumbago to bend and then straighten their trunks. While the participants were doing this, a thermode was applied to their lower back; the thermode issued three levels of heat: painless, slightly painful or painful. Before each contact, the participants were informed about the stimulation that they were about to receive.

A vicious circle
During the experiment, the researchers measured the movements of the lower back and the lumbar muscle activity. The - recently published (*) - results were surprising. People in good health are most influenced by the fear of pain: the stronger the fear, the more rigid the muscles become. In patients suffering from chronic lumbago, the anticipation of strong pain leads to less neuromuscular change. The researchers' explanation is that these patients are already stiff when they bend their backs and receive the painless heat. As their movement strategy is more fixed, it adapts less well to the environment. They are trapped within a vicious circle: fearing the suffering linked to movement, they lose their mobility, and the pain persists.

Manipulating the waits
Six out of the 27 times that the participants bent and straightened their backs, the researchers manipulated their anticipation of the pain through false instructions: before applying a high level of heat, they announced only a slight pain. Both the persons in good health and those suffering from lumbago felt less pain when the hot thermode was applied. Hence, it seems that the first pain-reliever to be administered to a patient suffering from acute lumbago should be a generous dose of reassuring words, in order to prevent the illness from becoming chronic.

(*)Yves Henchoz, Charles Tétreau, Jacques Abboud, Mathieu Piché, Martin Descarreaux (2013). Effects of noxious stimulation and pain expectations on neuromuscular control of the spine in patients with chronic low back pain. The Spine Journal online.
doi: 10.1016/j.spinee.2013.07.452
(available in pdf format from the SNSF to media representatives only:

Dr Yves Henchoz
Alcohol Treatment Center
Lausanne University Hospital (CHUV)
CH-1011 Lausanne
Phone.: +41 21 314 01 39

Media - Abteilung Kommunikation | idw
Further information:

Further reports about: back pain bad posture good health lumbago physical activity thermode vicious circle

More articles from Health and Medicine:

nachricht NIH scientists describe potential antibody treatment for multidrug-resistant K. pneumoniae
14.03.2018 | NIH/National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

nachricht Researchers identify key step in viral replication
13.03.2018 | University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences

All articles from Health and Medicine >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Locomotion control with photopigments

Researchers from Göttingen University discover additional function of opsins

Animal photoreceptors capture light with photopigments. Researchers from the University of Göttingen have now discovered that these photopigments fulfill an...

Im Focus: Surveying the Arctic: Tracking down carbon particles

Researchers embark on aerial campaign over Northeast Greenland

On 15 March, the AWI research aeroplane Polar 5 will depart for Greenland. Concentrating on the furthest northeast region of the island, an international team...

Im Focus: Unique Insights into the Antarctic Ice Shelf System

Data collected on ocean-ice interactions in the little-researched regions of the far south

The world’s second-largest ice shelf was the destination for a Polarstern expedition that ended in Punta Arenas, Chile on 14th March 2018. Oceanographers from...

Im Focus: ILA 2018: Laser alternative to hexavalent chromium coating

At the 2018 ILA Berlin Air Show from April 25–29, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT is showcasing extreme high-speed Laser Material Deposition (EHLA): A video documents how for metal components that are highly loaded, EHLA has already proved itself as an alternative to hard chrome plating, which is now allowed only under special conditions.

When the EU restricted the use of hexavalent chromium compounds to special applications requiring authorization, the move prompted a rethink in the surface...

Im Focus: Radar for navigation support from autonomous flying drones

At the ILA Berlin, hall 4, booth 202, Fraunhofer FHR will present two radar sensors for navigation support of drones. The sensors are valuable components in the implementation of autonomous flying drones: they function as obstacle detectors to prevent collisions. Radar sensors also operate reliably in restricted visibility, e.g. in foggy or dusty conditions. Due to their ability to measure distances with high precision, the radar sensors can also be used as altimeters when other sources of information such as barometers or GPS are not available or cannot operate optimally.

Drones play an increasingly important role in the area of logistics and services. Well-known logistic companies place great hope in these compact, aerial...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

International Tinnitus Conference of the Tinnitus Research Initiative in Regensburg

13.03.2018 | Event News

International Virtual Reality Conference “IEEE VR 2018” comes to Reutlingen, Germany

08.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

Wandering greenhouse gas

16.03.2018 | Earth Sciences

'Frequency combs' ID chemicals within the mid-infrared spectral region

16.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Biologists unravel another mystery of what makes DNA go 'loopy'

16.03.2018 | Life Sciences

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>