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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Lumbar position sense acuity during an electrical shock stressor

Nis Hjortskov*, Christian Hye-Knudsen* and Nils Fallentin

Author Affiliations

Department of Physiology, National Institute of Occupational Health, Lersø Parkallé 105, DK 2100 Copenhagen, Denmark

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BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders 2005, 6:37  doi:10.1186/1471-2474-6-37

Published: 1 July 2005



Optimal motor control of the spine depends on proprioceptive input as a prerequisite for co-ordination and the stability of the spine. Muscle spindles are known to play an important role in proprioception. Animal experiments suggest that an increase in sympathetic outflow can depress muscle spindle sensitivity. As the muscle spindle may be influenced by sympathetic modulation, we hypothesized that a state of high sympathetic activity as during mental stress would affect the proprioceptive output from the muscle spindles in the back muscles leading to alterations in proprioception and position sense acuity. The aim was to investigate the effect of mental stress, in this study the response to an electrical shock stressor, on position sense acuity in the rotational axis of the lumbar spine.


Passive and active position sense acuity in the rotational plane of the lumbar spine was investigated in the presence and absence of an electrical shock stressor in 14 healthy participants. An electrical shock-threat stressor lasting for approximately 12 minutes was used as imposed stressor to build up a strong anticipatory arousal: The participants were told that they were going to receive 8 painful electrical shocks however the participants never received the shocks. To quantify the level of physiological arousal and the level of sympathetic outflow continuous beat-to-beat changes in heart rate (beats*min-1) and systolic, diastolic and mean arterial blood pressure (mmHg) were measured. To quantify position sense acuity absolute error (AE) expressed in degrees was measured. Two-way analysis of variance with repeated measurements (subjects as random factor and treatments as fixed factors) was used to compare the different treatments.


Significant increases were observed in systolic blood pressure, diastolic blood pressure, and heart rate during the stress sessions indicating elevated sympathetic activity (15, 14 and 10%, respectively). Despite pronounced changes in the sympathetic activity and subjective experiences of stress no changes were found in position sense acuity in the rotational plane of the lumbar spine in the presence of the electrical shock stressor compared to the control period.


The present findings indicate that position sense acuity in the rotational plane of the spine was unaffected by the electrical shock stressor.