Endogenous Pain Modulation: Association with Resting Heart Rate Variability and Negative Affectivity.

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Abstract

Objectives

Several chronic pain syndromes are characterized by deficient endogenous pain modulation as well as elevated negative affectivity and reduced resting heart rate variability. In order to elucidate the relationships between these characteristics, we investigated whether negative affectivity and heart rate variability are associated with endogenous pain modulation in a healthy population.

Design, Subjects, and Methods

An offset analgesia paradigm with noxious thermal stimulation calibrated to the individual's pain threshold was used to measure endogenous pain modulation magnitude in 63 healthy individuals. Pain ratings during constant noxious heat stimulation to the arm (15 seconds) were compared with ratings during noxious stimulation comprising a 1 °C rise and return of temperature to the initial level (offset trials, 15 seconds). Offset analgesia was defined as the reduction in pain following the 1 °C decrease relative to pain at the same time point during continuous heat stimulation.

Results

Evidence for an offset analgesia effect could only be found when noxious stimulation intensity (and, hence, the individual's pain threshold) was intermediate (46 °C or 47 °C). Offset analgesia magnitude was also moderated by resting heart rate variability: a small but significant offset effect was found in participants with high but not low heart rate variability. Negative affectivity was not related to offset analgesia magnitude.

Conclusions

These results indicate that resting heart rate variability (HRV) is related to endogenous pain modulation (EPM) in a healthy population. Future research should focus on clarifying the causal relationship between HRV and EPM and chronic pain by using longitudinal study designs.

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