Attenuation of experimental pain by vibro-tactile stimulation in patients with chronic local or widespread musculoskeletal pain

Eur J Pain. 2011 Sep;15(8):836-42. doi: 10.1016/j.ejpain.2011.01.011. Epub 2011 Feb 19.


Patients with chronic pain syndromes, like fibromyalgia (FM) complain of widespread pain and tenderness, as well as non-refreshing sleep, cognitive dysfunction, and negative mood. Several lines of evidence implicate abnormalities of central pain processing as contributors for chronic pain, including dysfunctional descending pain inhibition. One form of endogenous pain inhibition, diffuse noxious inhibitory controls (DNIC), has been found to be abnormal in some chronic pain patients and evidence exists for deficient spatial summation of pain, specifically in FM. Similar findings have been reported in patients with localized musculoskeletal pain (LMP) disorders, like neck and back pain. Whereas DNIC reduces pain through activation of nociceptive afferents, vibro-tactile pain inhibition involves innocuous A-beta fiber. To assess whether patients with localized or widespread chronic pain disorders have dysfunctional A-beta related pain inhibition we enrolled 28 normal pain-free controls (NC), 29 FM patients, and 19 subjects with neck or back pain. All received 10s sensitivity-adjusted noxious heat stimuli to the forearms as test stimuli. To assess endogenous analgesic mechanisms of study subjects, vibro-tactile conditioning stimuli were simultaneously applied with test stimuli either homotopically or heterotopically. Additionally, the effect of distraction on experimental pain was assessed. Homotopic vibro-tactile stimulation resulted in 40% heat pain reductions in all subject groups. Distraction did not seem to affect experimental pain ratings.

Conclusions: Vibro-tactile stimulation effectively recruited analgesic mechanisms not only in NC but also in patients with chronic musculoskeletal pain, including FM. Distraction did not seem to contribute to this analgesic effect.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analgesia / methods*
  • Chronic Pain / physiopathology
  • Chronic Pain / prevention & control
  • Chronic Pain / therapy*
  • Diffuse Noxious Inhibitory Control / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Musculoskeletal Pain / physiopathology
  • Musculoskeletal Pain / prevention & control
  • Musculoskeletal Pain / therapy*
  • Physical Stimulation / methods
  • Touch / physiology*
  • Vibration / therapeutic use*
  • Young Adult