Age effects on pain thresholds, temporal summation and spatial summation of heat and pressure pain

Pain. 2005 Jun;115(3):410-418. doi: 10.1016/j.pain.2005.03.025.


Experimental data on age-related changes in pain perception have so far been contradictory. It has appeared that the type of pain induction method is critical in this context, with sensitivity to heat pain being decreased whereas sensitivity to pressure pain may be even enhanced in the elderly. Furthermore, it has been shown that temporal summation of heat pain is more pronounced in the elderly but it has remained unclear whether age differences in temporal summation are also evident when using other pain induction methods. No studies on age-related changes in spatial summation of pain have so far been conducted. The aim of the present study was to provide a comprehensive survey on age-related changes in pain perception, i.e. in somatosensory thresholds (warmth, cold, vibration), pain thresholds (heat, pressure) and spatial and temporal summation of heat and pressure pain. We investigated 20 young (mean age 27.1 years) and 20 elderly (mean age 71.6 years) subjects. Our results confirmed and extended previous findings by showing that somatosensory thresholds for non-noxious stimuli increase with age whereas pressure pain thresholds decrease and heat pain thresholds show no age-related changes. Apart from an enhanced temporal summation of heat pain, pain summation was not found to be critically affected by age. The results of the present study provide evidence for stimulus-specific changes in pain perception in the elderly, with deep tissue (muscle) nociception being affected differently by age than superficial tissue (skin) nociception. Summation mechanisms contribute only moderately to age changes in pain perception.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Cold Temperature
  • Female
  • Hot Temperature
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain Threshold / physiology*
  • Pressure
  • Sex Factors
  • Vibration