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PURPOSE: Proprioceptive deficits are common in low back pain. The multifidus muscle undergoes substantial structural change after back injury, but whether muscle spindles are affected is unclear. This study investigated whether muscle spindles of the multifidus muscle are changed by intervertebral disc (IVD) degeneration in a large animal model. METHODS: IVD degeneration was induced by partial thickness annulus fibrosus lesion to the L3-4 IVD in nine sheep. Multifidus muscle tissue at L4 was harvested at six months after lesion, and from six age-/sex-matched naïve control animals. Muscle spindles were identified in Van Gieson's-stained sections by morphology. The number, location and cross-sectional area (CSA) of spindles, the number, type and CSA of intrafusal fibers, and thickness of the spindle capsule were measured. Immunofluorescence assays examined Collagen I and III expression. RESULTS: Multifidus muscle spindles were located centrally in the muscle and generally near connective tissue. There were no differences in the number or location of muscle spindles after IVD degeneration and only changes in the CSA of nuclear chain fibers. The thickness of connective tissue surrounding the muscle spindle was increased as was the expression of Collagen I and III. CONCLUSION: Changes to the connective tissue and collagen expression of the muscle spindle capsule are likely to impact their mechanical properties. Changes in capsule stiffness may impact the transmission of length change to muscle spindles and thus transduction of sensory information. This change in muscle spindle structure may explain some of the proprioceptive deficits identified with low back pain.

Original publication




Journal article


Eur Spine J

Publication Date



Connective tissue, Intervertebral disc degeneration, Multifidus, Muscle spindle, Proprioception