Altered pronociceptive and antinociceptive mechanisms are often implicated in painful conditions and have been increasingly studied over the past decade. For some painful conditions, alterations are well-established, but in populations with low back pain (LBP), there remains considerable debate whether these mechanisms are altered. The present systematic review aimed to address this issue by identifying studies assessing conditioned pain modulation (CPM) and/or temporal summation of pain (TSP) in patients with LBP, comparing with either a healthy control group or using a method with reference data available. Qualitative synthesis and quantitative meta-analysis of group differences were performed. For CPM and TSP, 20 and 29 original articles were eligible, with data for meta-analysis obtainable from 18 (1500 patients and 505 controls) and 27 (1507 patients and 1127 controls) studies, respectively. Most studies were of poor-to-fair quality with significant heterogeneity in study size, population, assessment methodology, and outcome. Nonetheless, CPM was impaired in patients with LBP compared with controls (standardized mean difference = -0.44 [-0.64 to -0.23], P < 0.001), and the magnitude of this impairment was related to pain chronicity (acute/recurrent vs chronic, P = 0.003), duration (RS = -0.62, P = 0.006), and severity (RS = -0.54, P = 0.02). Temporal summation of pain was facilitated in patients with LBP compared with controls (standardized mean difference = 0.50 [0.29-0.72], P < 0.001), and the magnitude of this facilitation was weakly related to pain severity (RS= 0.41, P = 0.04) and appeared to be influenced by test modality (P < 0.001). Impaired CPM and facilitated TSP were present in patients with LBP compared with controls, although the magnitude of differences was small which may direct future research on the clinical utility.
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