Introduction: Over two thirds of individuals with low back pain (LBP) may experience recurrent or persistent symptoms in the long term. Yet, current data do not allow to predict who will develop chronic low back pain and who will recover from an acute episode. Elevated serum levels of the proinflammatory cytokine tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α) have been associated with poor recovery and persistent pain following an acute episode of LBP. Inflammatory cytokines may also mediate mechanisms involved in nociplastic pain, and thus, have significant implications in chronic primary low back pain (CPLBP).
Methods: This study aimed to investigate the potential of urinary TNF-α levels for predicting outcomes and characterizing clinical features of CPLBP patients. Twenty-four patients with CPLBP and 24 sex- and age-matched asymptomatic controls were recruited. Urinary TNF-α concentrations were measured at baseline and after 4 weeks, during which CPLBP patients underwent spinal manipulative therapy (SMT).
Results: Concentrations of TNF-α were found to be elevated in baseline urine samples of CPLBP patients compared to asymptomatic controls. Moreover, these values differed among patients depending on their pain trajectory. Patients with persistent pain showed higher levels of TNF-α, when compared to those with episodic CPLBP. Furthermore, baseline TNF-α concentrations and their changes after 4 weeks predicted alterations in pain intensity and disability following SMT in patients with CPLBP.
Discussion: These findings warrant further research on the potential use of urinary TNF-α concentrations as a prognostic biomarker for CPLBP.