Background: Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA) is the most common cause of non-infectious joint inflammation in children. Synovial inflammation results in pain, swelling and stiffness. Animal and adult human studies indicate that localized joint-associated inflammation may produce generalized changes in pain sensitivity. The aim was to characterize pain sensitivity in children with JIA to mechanical and thermal stimulus modalities using quantitative sensory testing (QST) at an affected inflamed joint, and compare to children in clinical remission. Generalized hypersensitivity was evaluated by comparing QST measures at the thenar eminence between JIA and healthy control children.
Methods: 60 children aged 7-17 years with JIA participated. QST assessed sensory detection threshold and pain threshold at two sites: (1) affected joint (clinically active or inactive), (2) contralateral thenar eminence. Joint site included finger, wrist, knee and ankle. Clinical status was measured using objective and subjective markers of disease severity. Questionnaires assessed pain intensity and frequency, functional disability, anxiety, pain catastrophization and fatigue. QST data collected from joints were compared within JIA patients: active vs. inactive inflammation; and data from the contralateral thenar eminence were compared between JIA and healthy control cohorts in Europe [EU, (n = 151)] and the US (n = 92). Statistical analyses were performed using Kruskal-Wallis with Dunn's post-hoc comparison, Mann-Whitney or Fisher's exact test, where appropriate.
Results: Overall, children with JIA reported low pain scores and low degrees of functional disability. Sensory detection thresholds and pain thresholds were similar in "active" compared to "inactive" joints. Despite this, children with JIA had generalized hypersensitivity at the thenar eminence when compared to healthy children for pressure (vs. EU p < 0.001), light touch (vs. EU p < 0.001), cold (vs EU, p < 0.01; vs US, p < 0.001) and heat pain (vs EU, p < 0.05; vs US p < 0.001).
Conclusions: JIA is associated with increased sensitivity to painful mechanical and thermal stimuli, even in absence of pain reports, or markers of disease activity. Future research investigating mechanisms underlying pain hypersensitivity in JIA is warranted; this will in turn guide pharmacologic and non-pharmacologic interventions to prevent or reverse these processes.
Keywords: Arthritis; Hyperalgesia; Inflammation; Pain; Quantitative sensory testing, Children, Adolescents; Somatosensory profile.