This study supports the hypothesis that healthy older adults exhibit decreased endogenous pain inhibition compared to younger healthy controls. Twenty-two older adults (56-77years of age) and 27 controls aged 20-49 participated in five experimental sessions following a training session. Each experimental session consisted of five 60-s trials in which the experimental heat stimulus was presented to the thenar eminence of the left palm with or without a conditioning stimulus (cold-water immersion of the foot). The temperature for the palm (44-49 degrees C) and foot (8-16 degrees C) was customized for each subject. The intensity of experimental pain produced by the contact thermode was continuously measured during the 60-s trial with an electronic visual analogue scale. No significant associations were found between subjects rating of concentration and the overall inhibitory effect. Older subjects failed to demonstrate conditioned pain modulation (CPM) and showed facilitation in the trials using painful concurrent immersion of the foot. A novel aspect of the study was that we recorded "pain offset" (i.e., after-sensations) and found that ratings for the older sample decreased at a slower rate than observed for the group of younger adults suggesting increased central sensitization among the older sample. Decrements in CPM could contribute to the greater prevalence of pain in older age. Since a number of neurotransmitter systems are involved in pain modulation, it is possible age-related differences in CPM are due to functional changes in these systems in a number of areas within the neuroaxis.
Copyright 2010 International Association for the Study of Pain. Published by Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.