The effect of observing high or low pain on the development of central sensitization

D. M. Torta*, E. Meyers, K. Polleunis, S. De Wolf, A. Meulders, E. N. van den Broeke

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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It is unknown whether watching other people in high pain increases mechanical hypersensitivity induced by pain. We applied high-frequency electrical stimulation (HFS) on the skin of healthy volunteers to induce pinprick mechanical hypersensitivity. Before HFS participants were randomly allocated to two groups: in the "low pain group", which was the control condition, they wathched a model expressing and reporting lower pain scores, in the "high pain group" the model expressed and reported higher scores. The two videos were selected on the basis of a pilot/observational study that had been conducted before. We tested the differences in perceived intensity of the HFS procedure, in the development of hypersensitivity and the role of fear and empathy. The high pain group reported on average higher pain ratings during HFS. The perceived intensity of hypersensitivity, but not the unpleasantness or length of the area was higher in the high pain group. Our results suggests that watching a person expressing more pain during HFS increases one's own pain ratings during HFS and may weakly facilitate the development of secondary mechanical hypersensitivity, although this latter result needs replication.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)167-177
Number of pages11
JournalThe Journal of Pain
Issue number1
Early online date23 Sept 2022
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2023

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