Contemporary use of the cold pressor task in pediatric pain research: a systematic review of methods

J Pain. 2012 Sep;13(9):817-26. doi: 10.1016/j.jpain.2012.06.005. Epub 2012 Jul 29.


The cold pressor task (CPT) is an ethical experimental pain task widely used by pediatric pain researchers to examine a variety of important theoretical and clinical questions. The purpose of this systematic review was to describe contemporary use of the CPT in pediatric pain research to identify possible methodological and procedural inconsistencies and inform future research. All papers using the CPT to examine pain-related outcomes in children ≤18 years old published after 2005 were identified, 2005 being when published pediatric CPT studies were last reviewed and guidelines for pediatric use of the CPT were published. Information related to samples, CPT methodology, and pain outcomes was recorded. Thirty-six published papers, involving 2,242 children (aged 3-18 years) from both healthy and clinical samples, met review inclusion criteria. Several aspects of CPT methodology with significant potential to impact pain outcomes were found to be inconsistently implemented and reported, including water temperature, use of informed versus uninformed ceilings, and the presence of observers during the CPT. Self-report child pain intensity and pain tolerance were common outcomes. A number of refinements for use of the CPT in pediatric pain research are suggested.

Perspective: The cold pressor task is a commonly used experimental method in pediatric pain research. This systematic review reveals important methodological inconsistencies in its use and suggestions for improvements to previously published guidelines.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cold Temperature / adverse effects*
  • Databases, Factual / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pain / physiopathology*
  • Pain Measurement / methods
  • Pediatrics*
  • Research Design*