Peripheral mechanisms of somatic pain

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In the last two decades, considerable advances have been made in our understanding of the mechanisms of pain. Studies correlating subjective magnitude estimations of pain in man with activity in single nerve fibers in experimental animals, and microneurographic recordings in awake humans, have provided convincing evidence for the role of specific nociceptors and labelled lines for signalling pain sensation in the normal skin. The response properties of the different types of nociceptive afferents, both myelinated and unmyelinated, from skin, muscle, and joints make them ideal candidates for signalling pain sensations. Cutaneous inflammation from any cause results in hyperalgesia. Cutaneous hyperalgesia at the site of an injury, i.e., primary hyperalgesia, can be explained by sensitization of nociceptors. This sensitization is likely due to local release of chemical mediators in the inflamed area. The metabolites of arachidonic acid (eicasonoids) and bradykinin appear to play an important role in the sensitization of nociceptors. Similar inflammation-induced changes in response properties of fine articular afferents might explain the pain of acute arthritis. The neuropeptide substance P released from primary afferents may also play an important role in the pathogenesis of arthritis. The mechanism of hyperalgesia in the region surrounding the injury, i.e., secondary hyperalgesia, is less well understood, and probably results from changes both in the peripheral and central nervous system. While considerable advances have been made in our understanding of the mechanisms of acute pain, the pathophysiology of most chronic pain states is still unclear. We hope that future studies in experimental animals, and careful psychophysical testing and microneurographic recordings in chronic pain patients, will lead to a better understanding of the pathophysiology of pain.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)571-590
Number of pages20
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1988

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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