Assessment of mechanisms in localized and widespread musculoskeletal pain

Nat Rev Rheumatol. 2010 Oct;6(10):599-606. doi: 10.1038/nrrheum.2010.107. Epub 2010 Jul 27.


The aim of this Review is to give a short presentation of the manifestations, assessment methods, and mechanisms underlying localized and widespread musculoskeletal pain, deep somatic tissue hyperalgesia and chronification. Hyperalgesia can be explained by increased pain sensitivity of nociceptors located in deep tissue (peripheral sensitization) or by increased responses from dorsal horn neurons (central sensitization). The spreading of pain and sensitization is related to increased synaptic activity in central neurons and to changes in descending control from supraspinal centers. Manifestations related to the different aspects of sensitization can be assessed quantitatively using sensory tests, such as pressure algometry (quantitative palpation) and cuff-algometry. Repeated pressure stimulation can evaluate the degree of temporal summation, which is a proxy for the level of central sensitization, as is expanded referred muscle pain area. The transition of acute localized musculoskeletal pain into chronic widespread pain is related to the progression of peripheral and central sensitization. This sensitization for the chronification of pain should be assessed by adequate pain biomarkers. Furthermore, pain prevention should target early intervention strategies and new anti-hyperalgesic compounds should be developed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Chronic Disease
  • Fibromyalgia / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Hyperalgesia / diagnosis
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases / diagnosis
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Nociceptors / physiology
  • Pain / diagnosis
  • Pain / physiopathology*
  • Pain Measurement
  • Pain Threshold / physiology*
  • Pain, Referred / physiopathology
  • Palpation / methods
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology