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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter July 1, 2012

Pain sensitivity changes in chronic pain patients with and without spinal cord stimulation assessed by nociceptive withdrawal reflex thresholds and electrical pain thresholds

  • J.A. Biurrun Manresa , J. Sörensen , A.-C. Sandell , O.K. Andersen , L. Arendt-Nielsen and B. Gerdle


Background and aim

Previous studies have shown that patients with chronic pain had significantly lower nociceptive withdrawal reflex thresholds (NWR-T) and electrical pain thresholds (EP-T) than healthy controls. Patients with chronic pain and implanted spinal cord stimulator (SCS) system presents an opportunity to study dynamic pain sensitivity changes in a situation where patients just have been stimulated (i.e., pain-free or greatly reduced pain) and compare with the situation where patients are not stimulated (i.e., experiencing severe pain).


Seventeen volunteers with chronic neuropathic pain and a SCS implanted for pain relief participated in the experiment. Volunteers were asked to turn off the SCS and refrain from medication at least 8 h before the experiment. Electrical stimulation (train-of-five 1-ms pulses delivered at 200 Hz) was applied to the arc of the foot in order to elicit the NWR and electromyographic responses were recorded from tibialis anterior muscle. A staircase procedure was used to assess the NWR-T and a Visual-Analog-Scale (VAS) scale (range 0–10) was used to assess the EP-T. After the initial testing, the SCS was turned on, and thresholds were reassessed after 1 h. Paired t-tests were used to compare the thresholds before and after the SCS was turned on. All values are presented as mean ± SD.


The NWR-T were significantly higher after the SCS was turned on (before: 16.3 ±8.1 mA; after: 19.0 ± 10.9 mA; p = 0.028). EP-T did not show any significant differences (before: 3.2 ± 1.5 mA; after: 2.9 ± 2.0 mA; p = 0.324).


Results showed a higher NWR-T after the SCS was turned on, which indicates a depression of spinal nociception. Moreover, the NWR-T was able to detect ongoing and relatively quick changes in pain sensitivity.

Published Online: 2012-07-01
Published in Print: 2012-07-01

© 2012 Scandinavian Association for the Study of Pain

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