OBJECTIVES: To review the literature relating to the detection and nature of altered paraspinal tissue texture, proposed explanations for altered tissue texture, evidence for the plausibility of paraspinal muscle spasm, and evidence of muscle dysfunction associated with low back pain (LBP).
DATA SOURCE: MEDLINE and CINAHL databases were searched using various combinations of the keywords paraspinal, muscle, palpation, EMG, spine, low back pain, pain, myofascial, hardness, manipulation, reliability, and somatic dysfunction, along with searching the bibliographies of selected articles and textbooks.
DATA EXTRACTION: All relevant data were used.
RESULTS: Little direct evidence exists for the nature of abnormal paraspinal tissue texture detected by palpation. Palpation for tenderness is more reliable than palpation for tissue texture change. Indirect evidence from animal studies and experimental muscle inflammation support the plausibility of protective paraspinal muscle contraction. Increased paraspinal electromyographic (EMG) activity observed in subjects with LBP appears to be a result of voluntary and nonvoluntary changes in motor control, modified by psychophysiological responses to perceived stress rather than a simple protective reflex.
CONCLUSION: Although little direct evidence exists of the nature of clinically detected paraspinal tissue texture change, the concept of reactive muscle contraction appears plausible. Increased paraspinal EMG activity associated with LBP does not appear to be mediated by a simple protective reflex.
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