Factor analysis of responses to thermal, electrical, and mechanical painful stimuli supports the importance of multi-modal pain assessment

Pain. 2011 May;152(5):1146-1155. doi: 10.1016/j.pain.2011.01.047. Epub 2011 Mar 10.


During the last decade, a multi-modal approach has been established in human experimental pain research for assessing pain thresholds and responses to various experimental pain modalities. Studies have concluded that differences in responses to pain stimuli are mainly related to variation between individuals rather than variation in response to different stimulus modalities. In a factor analysis of 272 consecutive volunteers (137 men and 135 women) who underwent tests with different experimental pain modalities, it was determined whether responses to different pain modalities represent distinct individual uncorrelated dimensions of pain perception. Volunteers underwent single painful electrical stimulation, repeated painful electrical stimulation (temporal summation), test for reflex receptive field, pressure pain stimulation, heat pain stimulation, cold pain stimulation, and a cold pressor test (ice water test). Five distinct factors were found representing responses to 5 distinct experimental pain modalities: pressure, heat, cold, electrical stimulation, and reflex-receptive fields. Each of the factors explained approximately 8% to 35% of the observed variance, and the 5 factors cumulatively explained 94% of the variance. The correlation between the 5 factors was near null (median ρ=0.00, range -0.03 to 0.05), with 95% confidence intervals for pairwise correlations between 2 factors excluding any relevant correlation. Results were almost similar for analyses stratified according to gender and age. Responses to different experimental pain modalities represent different specific dimensions and should be assessed in combination in future pharmacological and clinical studies to represent the complexity of nociception and pain experience.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Electric Stimulation / adverse effects
  • Factor Analysis, Statistical
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hyperalgesia / classification*
  • Hyperalgesia / diagnosis*
  • Hyperalgesia / etiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Pain Measurement / methods*
  • Pain Threshold / physiology*
  • Physical Stimulation / adverse effects*
  • Psychophysics
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Factors
  • Statistics as Topic
  • Temperature*
  • Young Adult