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Pain. 1999 Nov;83(2):123-35.

Cold-evoked pain varies with skin type and cooling rate: a psychophysical study in humans.

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  • 1Institute of Medical Sciences, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada.


The psychophysical responses to noxious cold stimulation of the skin in normal human subjects are not well understood. Continuous pain ratings with the visual analogue scale is an important method to assess these responses. In this study, we addressed several important issues about the parameters with which stimuli are delivered: the type of skin stimulated, the rate with which the stimulus temperature decreases, and the dimension of the pain rated by subjects. Cold stimuli were delivered to the thenar eminence (glabrous skin) and the dorso-lateral hand (hairy skin) via a 4 cm(2) Peltier-type stimulator. Cold and pain thresholds were determined by the method of limits (MOL). A computerized visual analogue scale (VAS) was used to obtain continuous ratings of pain intensity and affect. The McGill Pain Questionnaire (MPQ) was used to assess the quality of cold-evoked pain. Supra-threshold stimuli (34 degrees C base) were delivered at 0.5, 1 or 2 degrees C/s to 2 degrees C, held for 20s and returned to baseline at 9 degrees C/s. These studies revealed: (1) Cold thresholds, measured with MOL, were lower (i.e. occurred at higher absolute temperatures) for the hairy skin of the dorso-lateral hand compared to the glabrous skin of the thenar eminence. (2) A similar pattern was evident for cold induced pain thresholds with MOL at 1.5 degrees C/s and with intensity and affect VAS scales at 0.5 and 1 degrees C/s. (3) Exponents for supra-threshold ratings fit to power functions were larger for the glabrous skin site than the hairy skin site regardless of cooling rate or dimension of pain measured. (4) All pain indices were higher for slower cooling rates. (5) No significant differences were found in the pain indices for pain ratings of intensity and affect. (6) A substantial proportion of subjects chose words representing paradoxical heat with the MPQ. (7) Painful paradoxical heat sensations occurred most often during cooling, while innocuous warm sensations mainly occurred during the rewarming phase.

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