A psychophysical study of secondary hyperalgesia: evidence for increased pain to input from nociceptors

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Substantial evidence suggests that the hyperalgesia to mechanical stimuli that occurs in an area of uninjured skin surrounding a site of injury (area of secondary hyperalgesia) arises from activity in low-threshold mechanoreceptors (LTMs). In this study, we have investigated if activity in mechanically sensitive nociceptors also contributes to this secondary hyperalgesia. It is known that all woollen fabrics excite LTMs, but that only the prickly ones activate mechanically sensitive nociceptors. Therefore, we have conducted a psychophysical study using a range of prickly and non-prickly woollen fabrics applied to normal and hyperalgesic skin to assess the roles of LTMs and nociceptors in secondary hyperalgesia. We have studied in 10 normal volunteers the sensations of fabric-evoked prickle and pain in normal and hyperalgesic skin. Secondary hyperalgesia was produced by intradermal injection of capsaicin (25 μg) into the volar skin of the forearm. Five woollen fabrics (2 non-prickly, 2 prickly and 1 intermediate) were presented, in a blind manner, to the skin before and after the capsaicin injection. The sensation of fabric-evoked prickle was not changed in hyperalgesic skin. On the other hand, little if any pain was evoked by the fabrics when applied to normal skin, but substantial pain was produced by all fabrics when applied to hyperalgesic skin. The pain ratings were graded with the ratings of prickle so that fabrics that evoked the greatest prickle also evoked significantly more pain. The magnitude of pain increased linearly with prickle sensation; the slope of this regression function increased substantially in hyperalgesic skin. The increased pain produced by prickly fabrics in the hyperalgesic skin exceeded that which could be predicted by the acquired capacity of LTMs to evoke pain plus the pain produced by the prickly fabrics in normal skin. We conclude that the central alterations responsible for secondary hyperalgesia involve two components: an acquired capacity of LTMs to evoke pain and an increased responsiveness of central neurones to input from mechanically sensitive nociceptors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)21-28
Number of pages8
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 1994


  • (Human)
  • Hyperalgesia
  • Nociceptor
  • Pain
  • Psychophysics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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