The dynamics of the pain system is intact in patients with knee osteoarthritis: An exploratory experimental study

7 Citations (Scopus)


Background and aims Despite the high prevalence of knee osteoarthritis (OA) it remains one of the most frequent knee disorders without a cure. Pain and disability are prominent clinical features of knee OA. Knee OA pain is typically localized but can also be referred to the thigh or lower leg. Widespread hyperalgesia has been found in knee OA patients. In addition, patients with hyperalgesia in the OA knee joint show increased pain summation scores upon repetitive stimulation of the OA knee suggesting the involvement of facilitated central mechanisms in knee OA. The dynamics of the pain system (i.e., the adaptive responses to pain) has been widely studied, but mainly from experiments on healthy subjects, whereas less is known about the dynamics of the pain system in chronic pain patients, where the pain system has been activated for a long time. The aim of this study was to assess the dynamics of the nociceptive system quantitatively in knee osteoarthritis (OA) patients before and after induction of experimental knee pain. Methods Ten knee osteoarthritis (OA) patients participated in this randomized crossover trial. Each subject was tested on two days separated by 1 week. The most affected knee was exposed to experimental pain or control, in a randomized sequence, by injection of hypertonic saline into the infrapatellar fat pad and a control injection of isotonic saline. Pain areas were assessed by drawings on anatomical maps. Pressure pain thresholds (PPT) at the knee, thigh, lower leg, and arm were assessed before, during, and after the experimental pain and control conditions. Likewise, temporal summation of pressure pain on the knee, thigh and lower leg muscles was assessed. Results Experimental knee pain decreased the PPTs at the knee (P <0.01) and facilitated the temporal summation on the knee and adjacent muscles (P < 0.05). No significant difference was found at the control site (the contralateral arm) (P =0.77). Further, the experimental knee pain revealed overall higher VAS scores (facilitated temporal summation of pain) at the knee (P < 0.003) and adjacent muscles (P < 0.0001) compared with the control condition. The experimental knee pain areas were larger compared with the OA knee pain areas before the injection. Conclusions Acute experimental knee pain induced in patients with knee OA caused hyperalgesia and facilitated temporal summation of pain at the knee and surrounding muscles, illustrating that the pain system in individuals with knee OA can be affected even after many years of nociceptive input. This study indicates that the adaptability in the pain system is intact in patients with knee OA, which opens for opportunities to prevent development of centralized pain syndromes.

Original languageEnglish
JournalScandinavian Journal of Pain
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)43-49
Number of pages7
Publication statusPublished - 29 Dec 2017


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