Effect of active limb movements on symptoms in patients with low back pain

L. R. Van Dillen, S. A. Sahrmann, B. J. Norton, C. A. Caldwell, D. Fleming, M. K. McDonnell, N. J. Bloom

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51 Scopus citations


Study Design: A descriptive, correlational study of patients with mechanical low back pain (LBP). Objectives: To assess the effect of active limb movements on symptoms in patients with LBP and to examine the relationship between symptoms with limb movements and select patient characteristics. Background: Limb movements result in forces applied to the spine and, thus, may be important in the examination and treatment of patients with LBP. Methods and Measures: A total of 188 people with LBP, 84 men and 104 women, participated in a standardized examination. Six of the items required patients to move their limbs and note LBP symptoms as increased, remained the same, or decreased. The prevalence of various symptom responses with each limb movement test was calculated. Relationships between patient characteristics and reports of increased symptoms were examined with Cochran's linear trend statistic and the Spearman and Pearson correlation coefficients. Differences in characteristics of patients with and without increased symptoms were examined with X2 test, Mann-Whitney U test, or Student's t test for independent groups. Results: An increase in symptoms was reported by 149 patients with at least 1 of the limb movement tests, and 3 of the patients reported a decrease in symptoms. Across the patient sample, the mean number of limb movement tests for which symptoms were reported as increased was 2.30 ± 1.64. Patients with an increase in symptoms reported higher average pain intensity the week prior to the examination (median = 2; range: 1-5) and higher functional disability (mean = 0.25; SD = 0.15) than those without a change in symptoms (pain intensity: median = 1; range: 0-2 and functional disability: mean = 0.16; SD = 0.12). The correlation between the number of increased symptoms and the person's average pain intensity was r = 0.23; the correlation with the functional disability score was r = 0.36. Patients with a history of LBP tended to report an increase in symptoms with more of the limb movement tests (mean = 3.5; SD = 1.40) than those without a previous history of LBP (mean = 2.0; SD = 1.11). Conclusions: Active limb movements performed during the examination primarily resulted in increased LBP symptoms. The presence and number of increased symptoms with the active limb movements was related to the patient's report of average pain intensity and functional disability. Tests of symptoms with active limb movements may provide insight into factors contributing to a LBP problem, as well as information to guide the treatment of patients with LBP.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)402-413
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy
Issue number8
StatePublished - 2001


  • Limb movements
  • Low back pain assessment
  • Motor control
  • Spinal disorders


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