Effects of Stress and Relaxation on Central Pain Modulation in Chronic Whiplash and Fibromyalgia Patients Compared to Healthy Controls

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SCIENCE
Effects of Stress and Relaxation on Central Pain Modulation in Chronic Whiplash and Fibromyalgia Patients Compared to Healthy Controls
Key Take-Away: 

Due to the increased reactivity of pain-sensitive nerve cells in the central nervous system, people with fibromyalgia have a moderate threshold for pain. Also, a matching threshold is thought to affect people with chronic neck pain which is caused by an injury and this condition is called as chronic whiplash associated disorders (WAD). This study shows how pain modulation due to stress and relaxation varies greatly in WAD patients as compared to the FM patients.

Compelling evidence has demonstrated that impaired central pain modulation contributes to persistent pain in patients with chronic whiplash associated disorders (WAD) and fibromyalgia (FM).

ABSTRACT: 
Background: 

Compelling evidence has demonstrated that impaired central pain modulation contributes to persistent pain in patients with chronic whiplash associated disorders (WAD) and fibromyalgia (FM).

However, there is limited research concerning the influence of stress and relaxation on central pain modulation in patients with chronic WAD and FM. The present study aims to investigate the effects of acute cognitive stress and relaxation on central pain modulation in chronic WAD and FM patients compared to healthy individuals.

Methods: 

The present study took place at the University of Brussels, the University Hospital Brussels, and the University of Antwerp. Fifty-nine participants (16 chronic WAD patients, 21 FM, 22 pain-free controls) were enrolled and subjected to various pain measurements.

Temporal summation (TS) of pain and conditioned pain modulation (CPM) were evaluated. Subsequently, participants were randomly allocated to either a group that received progressive relaxation therapy or a group that performed a battery of cognitive tests (= cognitive stressor). Afterwards, all pain measurements were repeated. One week later participant groups were switched.

Results: 

A significant difference was found between the groups in the change in TS in response to relaxation (P = 0.008) and cognitive stress (P = 0.003).

TS decreased in response to relaxation and cognitive stress in chronic WAD patients and controls. In contrast, TS increased after both interventions in FM patients. CPM efficacy decreased in all 3 groups in response to relaxation (P = 0.002) and cognitive stress (P = 0.001). The obtained results only apply for a single session of muscle relaxation therapy and cognitive stress, whereby no conclusions can be made for effects on pain perception and modulation of chronic cognitive stress and long-term relaxation therapies.

Conclusion: 

A single relaxation session as well as cognitive stress may have negative acute effects on pain modulation in patients with FM, while cognitive stress and relaxation did not worsen bottom-up sensitization in chronic WAD patients and healthy persons.

However, endogenous pain inhibition, assessed using a CPM paradigm, worsened in chronic WAD and FM patients, as well as in healthy people following both interventions.

Pain Physician 2016 Mar;19(3):119-30

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