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European Journal of Pain

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This study investigated (a) if a prolonged noxious stimulus (24‐hr topical capsaicin) in healthy adults would impair central pain inhibitory and facilitatory systems measured as a reduction in conditioned pain modulation (CPM) and enhancement of temporal summation of pain (TSP) and (b) if acute pain relief or exacerbation (cooling and heating the capsaicin patch) during the prolonged noxious stimulus would affect central pain modulation.


Twenty‐eight participants (26.2 ± 1.0 years; 12 women) wore a transdermal 8% capsaicin patch on the forearm for 24 hr. Data were collected at baseline (Day 0), 1 hr, 3 hr, Day 1 (post‐capsaicin application) and Day 3/4 (post‐capsaicin removal) that included capsaicin‐evoked pain intensity, heat pain thresholds (HPTs), TSP (10 painful cuff pressure stimuli on leg) and CPM (cuff pressure pain threshold on the leg prior vs. during painful cuff pressure conditioning on contralateral leg). After 3 hr, cold (12°C) and heat (42°C) stimuli were applied to the capsaicin patch to transiently increase and decrease pain intensity.


Participants reported moderate pain scores at 1 hr (2.5 ± 2.0), 3 hr (3.7 ± 2.4), and Day 1 (2.4 ± 1.8). CPM decreased 3‐hr post‐capsaicin (p = .001) compared to Day 0 and remained diminished while the capsaicin pain score was reduced (0.4 ± 0.7, p < .001) and increased (6.6 ± 2.2, p < .001) by patch cooling and heating. No significant differences occurred for CPM during patch cooling or heating compared to initial 3HR; however, CPM during patch heating was reduced compared with patch cooling (p = .01). TSP and HPT did not change.


This prolonged experimental pain model is useful to provide insight into subacute pain conditions and may provide insight into the transition from acute to chronic pain.


During the early hours of a prolonged noxious stimulus in healthy adults, CPM efficacy was reduced and did not recover by temporarily removing the ongoing pain indicating a less dynamic neuroplastic process.


Accepted version. European Journal of Pain, Vol. 24, No. 4 (April 2020): 752-760. DOI. © 2020 Wiley. Used with permission.

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