Background: Incisional pain is a common form of acute pain. Previously, the authors studied persistent pain behaviors caused by incisions, using animal models for postoperative pain. In this study, the authors measured tissue pH and hind paw temperature before and after incision to understand factors that may activate and sensitize nociceptors in the incision.
Methods: Rats underwent a plantar incision, a gastrocnemius muscle incision, or a cutaneous paraspinal incision. For the hind paw incision, pain behaviors were measured. Tissue pH was measured using a pH-sensitive needle electrode in halothane-anesthetized rats. The pH in the incision was compared to a corresponding control site on the contralateral side of the rat or to the sham-operated group.
Results: Plantar tissue pH was 7.16 +/- 0.04 in sham-operated rats. Ten minutes after plantar incision, tissue pH was decreased to 6.91 +/- 0.20 (P < 0.05), and this decrease was sustained through 60 min after incision, when pH was 6.99 +/- 0.06 (P < 0.05). Tissue pH values were 6.95, 6.90, 6.89, and 6.95 (P < 0.05 vs. sham) 4 h and 1, 2, and 4 days after incision, respectively. On postoperative day 7, when plantar pH was same as for the control side (7.13 +/- 0.05), guarding behavior, heat responses, and responses to mechanical stimuli recovered. Outside the incised area in the hind paw, tissue pH was normal. Tissue pH was significantly correlated with all pain behaviors. In the gastrocnemius muscle, tissue pH was 7.14 +/- 0.7 in the sham-operated side. Ten minutes after incision, tissue pH was 6.54 +/- 0.12 (P < 0.05), and muscle pH remained decreased through 60 min after gastrocnemius incision when pH was 6.76 +/- 0.17 (P < 0.05). Tissue pH was also significantly decreased (P < 0.05) on day 1 (6.96 vs. 7.20) and day 4 (7.06 vs. 7.18) after gastrocnemius incision but was not reduced on postoperative day 8 (7.11 vs. 7.15). A paraspinal incision also decreased tissue pH in the hairy skin of the rat compared with the preincision value. Hind paw skin temperature did not change after incision.
Conclusion: A decrease in pH occurs immediately after incision and is sustained for at least 4 days. During the period of decreased tissue pH, pain behaviors are evident. When the tissue pH returns to normal, pain behaviors are diminished. The decreased pH is localized at the incision site and not to areas surrounding the incision. Decreased pH likely contributes to nociceptor sensitization and pain related behaviors after incision. The magnitude of the pH change varies among tissues. An increase in hind paw skin temperature does not play a role in these pain-related behaviors.