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Neurology. 2001 Oct 9;57(7):1296-303.

Pain increases during sympathetic arousal in patients with complex regional pain syndrome.

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  • 1School of Psychology, Murdoch University, Perth, Western Australia.



To investigate the effect of sympathetic arousal on pain and vasomotor responses in healthy control subjects and patients with complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), and to determine whether pain increases in patients with particular symptoms.


In experiments 1 and 2, capsaicin was applied to the forearm of 24 healthy subjects to induce thermal hyperalgesia. Vascular responses were monitored and subjects rated thermal hyperalgesia before and after being startled (experiment 1), and before, during, and after mental arithmetic, breath holding, forehead cooling, the Valsalva maneuver, and a cold pressor test in experiment 2. In a third experiment, sensitivity to heat, cold, and mechanical stimulation was investigated in 61 patients with CRPS. Pain ratings and vascular and electrodermal responses were recorded after patients were startled and during forehead cooling.


In experiment 1, thermal hyperalgesia decreased in healthy control subjects after they were startled, and digital blood vessels constricted symmetrically. In experiment 2, thermal hyperalgesia decreased during and after other forms of sympathetic arousal. However, in experiment 3, ratings of clinical pain increased during forehead cooling or after being startled in over 70% of patients with CRPS. Pain increased most consistently during forehead cooling in patients with cold allodynia or punctate allodynia. Digital blood vessels constricted more intensely on the symptomatic than the nonsymptomatic side in patients with CRPS during sympathetic arousal.


Normal inhibitory influences on pain during sympathetic arousal are compromised in the majority of patients with CRPS. The augmented vasoconstrictor response in the symptomatic limb during sympathetic arousal is consistent with adrenergic supersensitivity. An adrenergic sensitivity in nociceptive afferents might contribute to pain and hyperalgesia during sympathetic arousal in certain patients with CRPS.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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