What is spontaneous pain and who has it?

J Pain. 2012 Oct;13(10):921-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jpain.2012.05.008. Epub 2012 Jul 21.


Spontaneous pain is often discussed in the context of both chronic inflammatory and neuropathic pain conditions, and it has been suggested that spontaneous pain, rather than stimulus-evoked pain, may be the more significant clinical problem. The following issues are discussed here. First, it is suggested that the concept of spontaneous pain makes no sense when the pain is the result of an ongoing inflammatory reaction. Evidence is reviewed that indicates that spontaneous pain is present in patients with neuropathic pain, but perhaps only in a subset of such patients. Second, it is suggested that in the presence of allodynia and hyperalgesia, stimulation from the activities of daily life occurs very many times a day and that these stimulus-evoked pains may summate to give a fluctuating level of daily pain that both patients and investigators mistake for spontaneous pain.

Perspective: Which is more important-stimulus-evoked pain or spontaneous pain? This review suggests that to answer the question we will need to distinguish neuropathic spontaneous pain from inflammatory ongoing pain and to differentiate both from summated allodynic and hyperalgesic pains caused by the stimuli of daily life.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Pain / diagnosis*
  • Pain / etiology*
  • Pain Measurement
  • Physical Stimulation