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Keywords:

  • injury;
  • motor evoked potential;
  • multifidus;
  • pain;
  • reflex inhibition

Abstract

Morphological and behavioural changes in back muscles are common in back pain and injury. Recent data indicate a rapid reduction in the size of the multifidus, a deep back muscle, within 3 days of experimental intervertebral disc (IVD) injury in pigs. A reduced neural drive may contribute to this. We investigated changes in corticomotor excitability following IVD lesion by evaluation of the response of back muscles to electrical stimulation of the motor cortex. Motor evoked potentials (MEPs) were studied in 12 Swedish landrace pigs before injury, immediately after abdominal incision, immediately after L3-4 IVD lesion with a scalpel, and 15 min later. In two animals, responses were also evoked by descending volleys excited at the level of the mastoid processes (cervicomedullary evoked potentials) without motor cortex activation. In five animals, a sham procedure was followed without IVD lesion. MEPs were recorded in short (deep) and long (superficial) fibres of the multifidus at L3-5 on the lesioned side and at L4 contralaterally with intramuscular wire electrodes. Although the MEP amplitude increased in several muscles after incision, at 15 min after IVD lesion only the MEP amplitude of the deep L4 multifidus on the lesioned side was increased [36% (SD 15%), < 0.05]. There were no changes in MEP amplitude after 15 min at adjacent or contralateral levels. The response to cervicomedullary stimulation reduced slightly. This suggests that the increased MEP amplitude was due to changes in cortical excitability. These data indicate that IVD lesion induces localized increases, and not decreases, in the excitability of cortical inputs to the deep paraspinal muscles that cross a lesioned disc.