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BioMed Central

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Biology of Sex Differences

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Previous studies have shown that women experience greater temporal summation (TS) of pain than men using a repetitive thermal stimulus. These studies, however, did not individualize the thermal stimulus to each subject’s thermal pain sensitivity. The aim of this study was to investigate sex differences in TS using an individualized protocol and potential mediators that have been shown to influence TS including physical activity and body composition.


Fifty young healthy men and women (21 men) participated in the study. Subjects completed TS testing on the right forearm using a repetitive thermal stimulus at a temperature that the subject reported 6/10 pain. Other testing included body composition (lunar iDXA), activity monitoring (Actigraph), and Pain Catastrophizing Scale (PCS).


Women reported greater TS than men (p = 0.019), and TS was correlated with right arm lean mass (r = − 0.36, p = 0.01) and magnification subscale of PCS (r = − 0.32, p = 0.03). Mediation analysis showed a complete mediation for the relation between sex and TS by right arm lean mass (indirect effect = 2.33, 95% BCa CI [0.42, 4.58]) after controlling for the temperature, the magnification subscale of PCS, and the average time spent in moderate to vigorous physical activity.


The results of this study suggest that lean mass is a contributing factor to the sex differences in TS. Future studies should investigate whether interventions that increase lean mass have a positive effect on TS.


Published version. Biology of Sex Differences, Vol. 9, No. 42 (2018). DOI. © 2018 The Author(s). Used with permission.

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