Objectives: This study was undertaken to compare normal values of thermotactile and vibrotactile thresholds in males and females and in younger and older age groups. In addition, for thermal thresholds, the effects of the contact area (small and large) and stimulus location (glabrous and non-glabrous skin) were investigated.
Method: Eighty healthy subjects participated in the study: 20 males and 20 females aged 20-30 years, and 20 males and 20 females aged 55-65 years. Subjects attended one 45 min experimental session consisting of acclimatisation for 10 min followed by 35 min of testing. Using the method of limits, hot thresholds and cold thresholds were measured on the non-dominant upper limb at three locations (the distal phalanx of the middle finger, the thenar eminence, and the dorsal surface of the forearm) using two circular contactors 1.0 and 2.8 cm in diameter. Using the von Békésy method, vibrotactile thresholds at 31.5 and 125 Hz were measured on the distal phalanx of the middle finger of the non-dominant hand.
Results: Among the younger subjects there were significant gender differences in thermotactile thresholds but not vibrotactile thresholds. Age did not have any significant effect on thermotactile or vibrotactile thresholds. Hot thresholds were significantly higher and cold thresholds significantly lower when the larger stimulus area was used. The thresholds exceeded by 18% of the population (the mean plus one standard deviation) and by 2.5% (the mean plus two standard deviations) are provided and may be used to consider whether measured thresholds are within a "normal" range.
Conclusions: For males and females the same ranges of normal values may be used for vibrotactile thresholds but different ranges of normal values may be required for thermotactile thresholds. An age correction may not be needed for thermotactile or vibrotactile thresholds in persons aged 20-65 years. Contact area has an influence on thermotactile thresholds and should be controlled.