Wand, B. M., Di Pietro, F. S., George, P., & O’Connell, N. E. (2009). Tactile Thresholds are Preserved yet Cortical Sensory Function is Impaired in Chronic Non-Specific Low Back Pain Patients. MOVE 2009.
Introduction: A substantial amount of evidence points to an alteration in brain structure and function patients with chronic non-specific low back pain (CNSLBP) [1-6]. One interpretation of these findings is that the observed brain changes may represent a disruption of the brain’s representations of the body part and the resultant body perception disturbance may underpin this clinical problem. The current study aimed to investigate sensory dysfunction in CNSLBP. Specifically we aimed to distinguish cortically mediated sensory dysfunction from peripheral dysfunction by comparing simple tactile thresholds with more complex cortically mediated sensory tests
Methods: We investigated tactile thresholds (TTH), two point discrimination (TPD) and graphaesthesia over the lumbar spine of 19 CLBP patients and 19 age and sex matched healthy controls as a way of investigating whether CLBP patients present with a perceptual disturbance of their lumbar spine. Differences in performance of the sensory tests was explored using the Mann Whitney U Test and one-way between groups multivariate analysis of variance.
Results: We found no difference in tactile threshold between the two groups (P=.0.751). There was a statistically significant difference between controls and LBP for TPD: F(1,36)=10.15, p=.003 and letter error rate: F(1, 36)=6.54 p=0.015. The data indicate that LBP patients had a larger lumbar TPD distance and a greater letter recognition error rate.
Discussion: Both TPD and graphaesthesia are dependant on the integrity of the primary sensory cortex . These data support existing findings of perceptual abnormality in chronic back pain  and the preservation of tactile thresholds is suggestive of cortical rather than peripheral sensory dysfunction. Amelioration of these abnormalities may present a target for therapeutic intervention.
Chronic low back pain; corte ; graphaesthesia; two-point discrimination