The effect of age on hyperalgesia, one of the most common signs of injury, has not been previously examined in humans. A psychophysical study was conducted in 10 young (26.9+/-4.6 years) and 10 older (79. 0+/-5.7 years) healthy volunteers to investigate the effect of age on the development of hyperalgesia induced by topical application of capsaicin (0.1 ml, 5 mg/ml). The capsaicin patch (diameter 2 cm) was applied for 1 h. The intensity of capsaicin-induced spontaneous sensation, mechanical pain threshold, area of flare, heat and punctate hyperalgesia were measured hourly for 3 h after the application. Older adults took a longer period to report first pain. There was no age effect on the magnitude of spontaneous sensation, flare size and area of heat hyperalgesia. The area of heat hyperalgesia rapidly decreased over time in both age groups. In marked contrast, the area of punctate hyperalgesia and associated reduction in the mechanical pain threshold were maintained in older adults over the entire 3 h test period, but resolved rapidly in young adults. We conclude that, given the same intensity of noxious stimulation, older adults display a similar magnitude of hyperalgesia as younger persons. However, once initiated, punctate hyperalgesia appears to resolve more slowly in older people. This finding may indicate age differences in the plasticity of spinal cord neurons following an acute injury.