Age changes in pain perception: A systematic-review and meta-analysis of age effects on pain and tolerance thresholds

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2017 Apr;75:104-113. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2017.01.039. Epub 2017 Jan 31.


Demographic changes, with substantial increase in life expectancy, ask for solid knowledge about how pain perception might be altered by aging. Although psychophysical studies on age-related changes in pain perception have been conducted over more than 70 years, meta-analyses are still missing. The present meta-analysis aimed to quantify evidence on age-related changes in pain perception, indexed by pain thresholds and pain tolerance thresholds in young and older healthy adults. After searching PubMed, Google Scholar and PsycINFO using state-of-art screening (PRISMA-criteria), 31 studies on pain threshold and 9 studies assessing pain tolerance threshold were identified. Pain threshold increases with age, which is indicated by a large effect size. This age-related change increases the wider the age-gap between groups; and is especially prominent when heat is used and when stimuli are applied to the head. In contrast, pain tolerance thresholds did not show substantial age-related changes. Thus, after many years of investigating age-related changes in pain perception, we only have firm evidence that aging reduces pain sensitivity for lower pain intensities.

Keywords: Aging; Pain; Pain perception; Pain threshold; Tolerance thresholds.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging
  • Humans
  • Pain
  • Pain Measurement
  • Pain Perception*