Factors such as gender, ethnicity, and age affect pain processing in children and adolescents with chronic pain. Although obesity has been shown to affect pain processing in adults, almost nothing is known about pediatric populations. The aim of this pilot study was to explore whether obesity alters sensory processing in adolescents with chronic pain. Participants were recruited from a chronic pain clinic (Chronic Pain (CP), n = 12 normal weight; Chronic Pain + Obesity (CPO), n = 19 overweight/obesity) and from an obesity clinic (Obesity alone (O), n = 14). The quantitative sensory testing protocol included assessments of thermal and mechanical pain thresholds and perceptual sensitization at two sites with little adiposity. The heat pain threshold at the hand was significantly higher in the CPO group than in either the CP or O groups. Mechanical pain threshold (foot) was significantly higher in the CPO group than the CP group. No differences were found on tests of perceptual sensitization. Correlations between experimental pain and clinical pain parameters were found for the CPO group, but not for the CP group. This preliminary study provides important lessons learned for subsequent, larger-scale studies of sensory processing for youth with co-occurring chronic pain and obesity.
Keywords: chronic pain; obesity; pain threshold; quantitative sensory testing; sensory functioning.