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Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2017 Apr;75:104-113. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2017.01.039. Epub 2017 Jan 31.

Age changes in pain perception: A systematic-review and meta-analysis of age effects on pain and tolerance thresholds.

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Physiological Psychology, University of Bamberg, Bamberg, Germany. Electronic address:
Department of Educational Psychology and Psychological Assessment, University of Bamberg, Bamberg, Germany.
Department of Anaesthesia, Kantonsspital Baden, Baden, Switzerland.
Physiological Psychology, University of Bamberg, Bamberg, Germany.
Department of General Practice and Elderly Care Medicine, University Medical Center Groningen, University of Groningen, The Netherlands.


Demographic changes, with substantial increase in life expectancy, ask for solid knowledge about how pain perception might be altered by aging. Although psychophysical studies on age-related changes in pain perception have been conducted over more than 70 years, meta-analyses are still missing. The present meta-analysis aimed to quantify evidence on age-related changes in pain perception, indexed by pain thresholds and pain tolerance thresholds in young and older healthy adults. After searching PubMed, Google Scholar and PsycINFO using state-of-art screening (PRISMA-criteria), 31 studies on pain threshold and 9 studies assessing pain tolerance threshold were identified. Pain threshold increases with age, which is indicated by a large effect size. This age-related change increases the wider the age-gap between groups; and is especially prominent when heat is used and when stimuli are applied to the head. In contrast, pain tolerance thresholds did not show substantial age-related changes. Thus, after many years of investigating age-related changes in pain perception, we only have firm evidence that aging reduces pain sensitivity for lower pain intensities.


Aging; Pain; Pain perception; Pain threshold; Tolerance thresholds

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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