Does your back feel stiff? Well, it may not actually be stiff, study finds

September 26, 2017 by Laurie Wang
With lower back pain being the leading cause of disability worldwide affecting approximately 632 million people, it is important to examine mechanisms associated with lower back pain and its symptoms, including stiffness. Credit: Amanda McCarthy

"My back feels so stiff!" We often hear our friends say.

Well, that doesn't mean your friend's back is actually stiff, according to a new study at the University of Alberta's Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine.

"A of feeling stiff does not reflect true biomechanical back stiffness," explained Greg Kawchuk, professor and back and spine expert in the Department of Physical Therapy. "When we use the same word, stiffness, to describe a feeling and how we measure actual stiffness, we assume these words are describing the same thing. But that is not always the case."

In the study, Kawchuk and his team asked participants how stiff their backs felt to them. After that, using a customized device, they measured just how stiff the back actually was.

"There was no relation between biomechanical stiffness and the reported feeling of stiffness," he said. "What people describe as stiffness is something different than the measurement of stiffness."

Tasha Stanton, lead author and senior research fellow of pain neuroscience at the University of South Australia, said that the feeling of stiffness may be a protective construct that is created by our nervous system.

"It's our body's way of protecting ourselves, possibly from strain, further injury or more pain," she said.

With being the leading cause of disability worldwide affecting approximately 632 million people, it is important to examine mechanisms associated with lower back pain and its symptoms, including .

"Words are important. The words patients use to describe a problem in the clinic may not be the same thing we as clinicians measure in the clinic," said Kawchuk. "We need to find out what it means exactly when someone says they have a stiff back. We now know it might not mean that their back is mechanically stiff.

It could mean they feel their movements are slower and more painful."

The study was published in Scientific Reports on August 27, 2017.

Explore further: Is back stiffness just a trick of the mind?

More information: Tasha R. Stanton et al. Feeling stiffness in the back: a protective perceptual inference in chronic back pain, Scientific Reports (2017). DOI: 10.1038/s41598-017-09429-1

Related Stories

Is back stiffness just a trick of the mind?

August 30, 2017
Is back stiffness all in the mind? New scientific evidence from a University of South Australia researcher shows – for the first time – that feelings of back stiffness may purely be a protective mechanism to avoid further ...

Spinal manipulation works for back pain—in some people

August 31, 2015
(Edmonton) Depending on whom you ask or what scientific paper you read last, spinal manipulation is either a mercifully quick, effective treatment for low-back pain or a complete waste of time.

Research on the effect of nerve cell stiffness on sensitivity to touch could lead to new painkillers

December 13, 2016
For many patients with chronic pain, any light touch - even just their clothes touching their skin - can be agony. Scientists at EMBL and the Werner Reichardt Centre for Integrative Neuroscience (CIN) of the University of ...

Musculoskeletal symptoms predict psoriatic arthritis

March 13, 2017
(HealthDay)—For patients with psoriasis, nonspecific musculoskeletal symptoms, including joint pain, fatigue, and stiffness, predict the development of psoriatic arthritis (PsA), according to a study published in the March ...

Researchers discover MRI can measure kidney scarring and predict future kidney function

August 30, 2017
Researchers from St. Michael's Hospital have made what are believed to be two world first discoveries: an MRI can measure kidney damage and can predict future kidney function within one year while avoiding needle biopsies.

Recommended for you

Searching for a link between achy joints and rainy weather in a flood of data, researchers come up dry

December 13, 2017
Rainy weather has long been blamed for achy joints. Unjustly so, according to new research from Harvard Medical School. The analysis, published Dec. 13 in BMJ, found no relationship between rainfall and joint or back pain.

Mistletoe and (a large) wine: Seven-fold increase in wine glass size over 300 years

December 13, 2017
Our Georgian and Victorian ancestors probably celebrated Christmas with more modest wine consumption than we do today - if the size of their wine glasses are anything to go by. Researchers at the University of Cambridge have ...

How well can digital assistants answer questions on sex?

December 13, 2017
Google laptop searches seem to be better at finding quality online sexual health advice than digital assistants on smartphones, find experts in the Christmas issue of The BMJ.

Healthy eating linked to kids' happiness

December 13, 2017
Healthy eating is associated with better self-esteem and fewer emotional and peer problems, such as having fewer friends or being picked on or bullied, in children regardless of body weight, according to a study published ...

Owning a pet does not seem to influence signs of aging

December 13, 2017
Owning a pet does not appear to slow the rate of ageing, as measured by standard indicators, suggest the authors of a study published in the Christmas issue of The BMJ.

Increased air pollution linked to bad teenage behavior

December 13, 2017
A new study linking higher levels of air pollution to increased teenage delinquency is a reminder of the importance of clean air and the need for more foliage in urban spaces, a Keck School of Medicine of USC researcher said.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.