OBJECTIVES: Stress and pain have been interrelated in clinical widespread pain conditions. Studies indicate that acute experimental stress in healthy volunteers has a negative effect on the descending inhibitory pain control system and thus the ability to inhibit one painful stimulus with another (conditioned pain modulation [CPM]) although without effect on general pain sensitivity. CPM effects can be assessed immediately after the stress induction, whereas some physiological stress responses (e.g., cortisol release) are delayed and longer lasting. It is unclear whether CPM may relate to stress-induced increases in cortisol. DESIGN: Twenty-five healthy men had CPM effects measured over a period of 10 minutes. Pain detection thresholds (PDTs) were assessed by repeated test stimuli with cuff algometry on one leg, with and without painful cuff pressure conditioning on the contralateral leg. CPM effects, assessed as the increase in PDT during conditioning stimulation compared with without, were measured before and after experimental stress and a control condition (Montreal Imaging Stress Task [MIST]). Saliva cortisol levels and self-perceived stress were collected. RESULTS: Participants reported the MIST to be more stressful compared with the MIST control, but cortisol levels did not change significantly from baseline. In all sessions, PDT increased during conditioning (P = 0.001), although the MIST compared with the MIST control had no significant effect on PDT or CPM effects. A negative correlation between changes in cortisol and conditioned PDT was found when applying the MIST (P < 0.03). CONCLUSIONS: No significant effect of stress was found on CPM compared with a matched control condition. Individual changes in experimental stress and in conditioned pain sensitivity may be linked with cortisol.
- Conditioned Pain Modulation (CPM)
- Montreal Imaging Stress Test (MIST)
- Social Stress
- Stress-Induced Analgesia