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Pain Sensitivity and its Relation to Spreading on the Body, Intensity, Frequency, and Duration of Pain

A Cross-Sectional Population-based Study (SwePain)

Larsson, Britt PhD, MD*; Gerdle, Björn PhD, MD*; Björk, Jonas PhD; Grimby-Ekman, Anna PhD*,‡

The Clinical Journal of Pain: July 2017 - Volume 33 - Issue 7 - p 579–587
doi: 10.1097/AJP.0000000000000441
Original Articles

Objectives: Individuals with chronic pain often report increased pain sensitivity compared with pain-free individuals; hence, it is crucial to determine whether and how different pain characteristics influence or interact with pain sensitivity. An alternative to experimental pain sensitivity testing is the self-reported pain sensitivity questionnaire (PSQ), which captures pain sensitivity in various body areas.

This study compares PSQ in individuals with and without pain and clarifies how pain sensitivity relates to spreading of pain on the body, and to intensity, frequency, duration of pain and to age and sex.

Materials and Methods: A total of 5905 individuals with pain and 572 individuals without pain from the general population in southeastern Sweden completed and returned a postal questionnaire.

Results: The mean PSQ score was 3.9 (95% confidence interval [CI], 3.88-3.98) in individuals with pain and 3.5 (95% CI, 3.38-3.64) in pain-free individuals. Hence, PSQ was the highest among individuals with pain, with a difference of 0.4 (95% CI, 0.30-0.56). There was a considerable variation in the PSQ values (mean=3.5; SD=1.54) among pain-free individuals. Pain sensitivity was positively related to spreading, intensity, and frequency of pain, with a correlation coefficient of 0.3. PSQ was higher in widespread pain, 4.5 (95% CI, 4.27-4.69) in women and 4.3 (95% CI, 3.94-4.71) in men, than in local pain, 3.7 (95% CI, 3.61-3.91) in women and 3.8 (95% CI, 3.66-3.95) in men. The score for women with regional pain was between local and widespread pain at 4.0 (95% CI, 3.95-4.11) and that for men with regional pain was 3.8 (95% CI, 3.69-3.87), which is equal to that of local pain.

Discussion: The positive association between pain sensitivity and spreading of pain on the body provides some evidence that the extent of spreading may be related to the degree of pain sensitivity. Before clinical use of PSQ, psychometric development and further research are needed.

*Department of Medical and Health Sciences, Linköping University, Linköping

Occupational and Environmental Medicine, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg

Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Lund University, Lund, Sweden

Supported by The Swedish Pain Foundation, Linköping University, and The Medical Research Council of Southeast Sweden. The funding bodies did not take part in the collection, analysis, and interpretation of data, in the writing of the manuscript, or in the decision to submit the manuscript for publication. The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Reprints: Britt Larsson, PhD, MD, Department of Medical and Health Sciences (IMH), Faculty of Health Sciences, Linköping University, Linköping SE-581 85, Sweden (e-mail:

Received March 14, 2016

Received in revised form October 25, 2016

Accepted September 10, 2016

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