Quantitative Sensory Testing in Chronic Musculoskeletal Pain

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Abstract

Background. In recent years, several published articles have demonstrated that quantitative sensory testing (QST) is useful in the analysis of musculoskeletal pain disorders. Based on the evidence from these studies, it is assumed that QST might be a useful tool in the analysis of the pathogenesis, classification, differential diagnosis, and prognosis of chronic musculoskeletal pain.

Objectives. The objective of this paper is to discuss measurement properties of QST and potentials research and clinical applications in musculoskeletal pain.

Methods. This is a review of the current knowledge base on QST as it relates to musculoskeletal pain disorders. We based our summary on articles retrieved from Ovid MEDLINE (1946 to present) including EMBASE, AMED, and PsycINFO databases to search for all published literature focused on QST and musculoskeletal pain.

Results. QST has been shown to be related to neural sensitivity in musculoskeletal pain. QST measurement properties have been evaluated for multiple sensory evaluation modalities and protocols with no clear superior instrument or test protocol. The research evidence is incomplete, but suggests potential clinical benefits for predicting outcomes and subtyping pain. Threshold detection testing is commonly used to quantify sensory loss or gain, in current practice and has shown moderate reliability. Intensity/magnitude rating can be assessed on a wide range of rating scales and may be more useful for pain rating in a clinical context. Threshold detection-based testing and intensity/magnitude rating-based testing can be combined to determine pain threshold in clinical evaluation.

Conclusions. Musculoskeletal pain management may benefit from treatment algorithms that consider mechanism, pain quality, or neurophysiological correlates. Non-invasive QST may be helpful to find sensory array of altered nociceptive process. Due to the diverse etiopathogenetic basis of musculoskeletal pain disorders, a broad range of reliable and valid QST tests may be needed to analyze the various disease entities.

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