Deficient discrimination of EMG levels and overestimation of perceived tension in chronic pain patients

Herta Flor, Michael Fürst, Niels Birbaumer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Twenty chronic low back pain patients (CBP), twenty tension headache (THA) patients, and twenty healthy controls (HC) participated in a tension production task where subjects had to attain four levels (4, 8, 12, 16 μV) of muscle tension at the m. frontalis and the m. erector spinae. Ratings of perceived tension, pain, and aversiveness as well as EMG, heart rate, and skin conductance levels were recorded. Signal detection and correlational methods revealed that the patients were deficient in muscle tension discrimination at high tension levels in both muscles. They generally overestimated low and underestimated high levels of muscle tension, especially in the CBP group. At low muscle tension levels, both healthy controls and patients showed deficient discrimination ability. Perceived muscle tension, aversiveness, and pain ratings during the tasks were higher in the patient groups. These data confirm and clarify previous reports of deficient tension perception and show concurrent overestimation of bodily symptoms in chronic musculoskeletal pain patients.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)55-66
Number of pages12
JournalApplied Psychophysiology Biofeedback
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1999


  • EMG
  • Pain
  • Signal detection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)
  • Clinical Psychology


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