Experimental and clinical applications of quantitative sensory testing applied to skin, muscles and viscera

J Pain. 2009 Jun;10(6):556-72. doi: 10.1016/j.jpain.2009.02.002. Epub 2009 Apr 19.


Quantification of the human painful sensory experience is an essential step in the translation of knowledge from animal nociception to human pain. Translational models for assessment of pain are very important, as such models can be used in: 1) basic mechanistic studies in healthy volunteers; 2) clinical studies for diagnostic and monitoring purposes; 3) pharmacological studies to evaluate analgesic efficacy of new and existing compounds. Quantitative pain assessment, or quantitative sensory testing (QST), provides psychophysical methods that systematically document alterations and reorganization in nervous system function and, in particular, the nociceptive system. QST is defined as the determination of thresholds or stimulus response curves for sensory processing under normal and pathophysiological conditions. The modern concept of advanced QST for experimental pain assessment is a multimodality, multitissue approach where different pain modalities (thermal, mechanical, electrical, and chemical) are applied to different tissues (skin, muscles, and viscera) and the responses are assessed by psychophysical methods (thresholds and stimulus-response functions). Many new and advanced technologies have been developed to help relieve evoked, standardized, and painful reactions. Assessing pain has become a question of solving a multi-input, multi-output problem, with the solution providing the possibility of teasing out which pain pathways and mechanisms are involved, impaired, or affected.

Perspective: Many methodologies have been developed for quantitative assessment of pain perception and involved mechanisms. This paper describes the background for the different methods, the use in basic pain experiments on healthy volunteers, how they can be applied in drug profiling, and the applications in clinical practice.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics / therapeutic use
  • Animals
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Evoked Potentials, Somatosensory
  • Humans
  • Hyperalgesia / chemically induced
  • Hyperalgesia / diagnosis
  • Hyperalgesia / drug therapy
  • Muscles*
  • Pain / chemically induced
  • Pain / diagnosis
  • Pain / drug therapy
  • Pain Measurement / methods*
  • Pain Threshold
  • Peripheral Nervous System Diseases / chemically induced
  • Peripheral Nervous System Diseases / diagnosis
  • Peripheral Nervous System Diseases / drug therapy
  • Physical Stimulation
  • Skin*
  • Temperature
  • Viscera*


  • Analgesics