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Childhood Adversity and Pain Facilitation

You, Dokyoung S., PhD; Meagher, Mary W., PhD

doi: 10.1097/PSY.0000000000000638

Objective This study investigated whether childhood adversity would be associated with hypersensitivity on two measures of central pain facilitation: area of secondary allodynia and temporal summation of second pain (TSSP), and whether pain facilitation would be explained by adult posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms.

Method Participants endorsing high (n = 31) and low (n = 31) childhood adversity underwent capsaicin-induced secondary allodynia and TSSP testing. The tests were conducted a week apart with test order counterbalanced.

Results Larger areas of secondary allodynia were observed in the high adversity group compared with the low adversity group (F(1,60) = 4.81, p = .032). This group difference was largely (62%) explained by greater PTSD symptoms in the high adversity group. Although no overall difference was found in TSSP slopes (p = .886), this was attributed to an order by group interaction (F(1,58) = 5.07, p = .028) and low power. Subsequent analyses revealed positive TSSP slopes in the high adversity group when TSSP testing was performed first, and this order effect was associated with blunted sympathetic responses to TSSP on the first visit. The two facilitation measures were unrelated (p = .631).

Conclusions Larger areas of secondary allodynia were observed in the high adversity group, which was explained largely by PTSD symptoms. This suggests that adversity-related changes in pain facilitation may underlie the association between childhood adversity and generalized widespread pain. Although TSSP was affected by previous testing, adversity-related pain facilitation was observed when TSSP testing occurred first. Finally, adversity was not associated with a consistent pattern of hypersensitivity across the two measures of central pain facilitation.

From the Department of Psychology (You, Meagher), Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas.

Address correspondence to Mary W. Meagher, PhD, Department of Psychology, Texas A&M University, Mail stop 4235, College Station, TX 77843-4235. E-mail:

Received for publication August 1, 2017; revision received June 29, 2018.

Copyright © 2018 by American Psychosomatic Society
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