Many chronic pain syndromes, including fibromyalgia (FM), show evidence of central nervous system hyperexcitability related to central sensitization. Windup (WU) of second pain reflects increased excitability of spinal cord neurons that is related to central sensitization. Psychophysical testing can help characterize this important central nervous system phenomenon because of the parallels between electrophysiological WU and WU of second pain. Animal experiments have shown that once WU has been established, only low frequency tonic nociceptive input is required to maintain the sensitized state of dorsal horn neurons (WU-maintenance or WU-M). The stimulus frequency necessary to maintain the hyperexcitability of spinal cord neurons can provide a measure of central sensitization. Because central sensitization
plays an important role in many chronic pain syndromes including FM, we compared WU-M in 72 normal controls (NC) and 104 FM subjects. WU of second pain was produced by a train of 0.7 s duration thermal pulses applied to the glabrous surface of the hands at a frequency of 0.3 Hz. Enhanced second pain associated with WU could, thereafter, be maintained in FM but not NC subjects for up to 120 s by stimuli delivered at 0.16 and 0.08 Hz (WU-M stimuli). These two frequencies of stimulation do not produce WU when delivered alone. Thus, unlike NC subjects, FM subjects showed enhanced second pain during WU-M stimuli at very low stimulus frequencies, indicating central sensitization. Increased WU sensitivity, enhanced WU-M, and increased WU-related after sensations help account for persistent pain conditions in FM subjects. In addition to WU, WU-M appears to be a useful tool to study mechanisms of pain in patients with characteristics of central sensitization.
Pain (2004 Aug) 110(3):689-96