Suprathreshold heat pain response is associated with clinical pain intensity for patients with shoulder pain

J Pain. 2011 Jan;12(1):133-40. doi: 10.1016/j.jpain.2010.06.002. Epub 2010 Aug 7.


Quantitative sensory testing (QST) has become commonly used for the assessment of pain in subjects with clinical conditions. However, there is no consensus about which type of QST is the best predictor of clinical pain responses. The purposes of this study were to determine: a) the QST measure with the strongest association with clinical pain intensity; and b) if the QST measure continued to predict clinical pain intensity in a model including relevant psychological factors. Fifty-nine patients seeking treatment for shoulder pain underwent experimental pain assessment involving heat and pressure stimuli. The patients also completed validated questionnaires for pain intensity, pain catastrophizing, anxiety, and depression. The 5th pain rating in a series of suprathreshold heat pain stimuli accounted for a significant amount of variance in clinical pain intensity, with no other QST measure contributing to the model. The 5th pain rating remained a significant contributor to clinical pain intensity when psychological factors were included in the model. Furthermore, subjects with elevated 5th pain rating, pain catastrophizing, and depression scores had higher clinical pain intensity ratings in pre- and postoperative assessments. These data suggest that assessment of pain should include suprathreshold heat stimuli and psychological factors separately, and a combination of these factors may be predictive of pain intensity outcomes.

Perspective: The current study provides evidence for a suprathreshold heat pain response as a clinically relevant QST measure for patients with shoulder pain, even after psychological factors were considered. The present findings suggest that the 5th pain rating from a series of suprathreshold stimuli, pain catastrophizing, and depression might play a role in predicting pain intensity outcomes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Anxiety / etiology
  • Anxiety / psychology
  • Catastrophization / etiology
  • Catastrophization / psychology
  • Cohort Studies
  • Depression / etiology
  • Depression / psychology
  • Female
  • Hot Temperature* / adverse effects
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain Measurement / methods
  • Pain Threshold / psychology*
  • Pressure / adverse effects
  • Shoulder Pain / complications*
  • Shoulder Pain / psychology
  • Statistics as Topic
  • Young Adult