Objectives: To investigate sensory changes present in patients with chronic whiplash-associated disorders and chronic idiopathic neck pain using a variety of quantitative sensory tests to better understand the pain processing mechanisms underlying persistent symptoms.
Methods: A case control study was used with 29 subjects with chronic whiplash-associated disorders, 20 subjects with chronic idiopathic neck pain, and 20 pain-free volunteers. Pressure pain thresholds were measured over the articular pillars of C2-C3, C5-C6, the median, radial, and ulnar nerve trunks in the arm and over a remote site, the muscle belly of tibialis anterior. Heat pain thresholds, cold pain thresholds, and von Frey hair sensibility were measured over the cervical spine, tibialis anterior, and deltoid insertion. Anxiety was measured with the Short-Form of the Spielberger State Anxiety Inventory.
Results: Pressure pain thresholds were decreased over cervical spine sites in both subject groups when compared with controls (P < 0.05). In the chronic whiplash-associated disorders group, pressure pain thresholds were also decreased over the tibialis anterior, median, and radial nerve trunks (P < 0.001). Heat pain thresholds were decreased and cold pain thresholds increased at all sites (P < 0.03). No differences in heat pain thresholds or cold pain thresholds were evident in the idiopathic neck pain group at any site compared with the control group (P > 0.27). No abnormalities in von Frey hair sensibility were evident in either neck pain group (P > 0.28).
Discussion: Both chronic whiplash-associated disorders and idiopathic neck pain groups were characterized by mechanical hyperalgesia over the cervical spine. Whiplash subjects showed additional widespread hypersensitivity to mechanical pressure and thermal stimuli, which was independent of state anxiety and may represent changes in central pain processing mechanisms. This may have implications for future treatment approaches.