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Expert Rev Neurother. 2012 May;12(5):577-85. doi: 10.1586/ern.12.41.

Abnormal endogenous pain modulation is a shared characteristic of many chronic pain conditions.

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Division of Rheumatology and Clinical Immunology, University of Florida, PO Box 100221, Gainesville, FL 32610-0221, USA.


The intensity of acute and chronic pain depends on interactions between peripheral impulse input and CNS pain mechanisms, including facilitation and inhibition. Whereas tonic pain inhibition is a characteristic of most pain-free individuals, pain facilitation can be detected in many chronic pain patients. The capability to inhibit pain is normally distributed along a wide continuum in the general population and can be used to predict chronic pain. Accumulating evidence suggests that endogenous pain inhibition depends on activation of the prefrontal cortex, periaqueductal gray and rostral ventral medulla. Quantitative sensory test paradigms have been designed to acquire detailed information regarding each individual's endogenous pain inhibition and facilitation. Such tests include: temporal summation of pain, which is mostly used to assess facilitatory pain modulation by measuring the change in pain perception during a series of identical nociceptive stimuli; and conditioned pain modulation, which tests pain inhibition by utilizing two simultaneously applied painful stimuli (the 'pain inhibits pain' paradigm). Considerable indirect evidence seems to indicate that not only increased pain facilitation but also ineffective pain inhibition represents a predisposition for chronic pain. This view is supported by the fact that many chronic pain syndromes (e.g., fibromyalgia, temporomandibular joint disorder, irritable bowel syndrome, headache and chronic fatigue syndrome) are associated with hypersensitivity to painful stimuli and reduced endogenous pain inhibition. However, future prospective studies will be necessary to provide definitive evidence for this relationship. Such research would not only provide important information about mechanisms relevant to chronic pain but would also permit identification of individuals at high risk for future chronic pain.

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