The cortical and cerebellar representation of the lumbar spine



Eight decades after Penfield's discovery of the homunculus only sparse evidence exists on the cortical representation of the lumbar spine. The aim of our investigation was the description of the lumbar spine's cortical representation in healthy subjects during the application of measured manual pressure. Twenty participants in the prone position were investigated during functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). An experienced manual therapist applied non-painful, posterior-to-anterior (PA) pressure on three lumbar spinous processes (L1, L3, and L5). The pressure (30 N) was monitored and controlled by sensors. The randomized stimulation protocol consisted of 68 pressure stimuli of 5 s duration. Blood oxygenation level dependent (BOLD) responses were analyzed in relation to the lumbar stimulations. The results demonstrate that controlled PA pressure on the lumbar spine induced significant activation patterns. The major new finding was a strong and consistent activation bilaterally in the somatosensory cortices (S1 and S2). In addition, bilateral activation was located medially in the anterior cerebellum. The activation pattern also included other cortical areas probably related to anticipatory postural adjustments. These revealed stable somatosensory maps of the lumbar spine in healthy subjects can subsequently be used as a baseline to investigate cortical and subcortical reorganization in low back pain patients. Hum Brain Mapp 35:3962–3971, 2014. © 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.