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Abstract

Objective

The modest association between radiographic joint damage and pain in osteoarthritis (OA) has led to the suggestion of facilitated central pain processing. This study evaluated the importance of ongoing tissue pathology in the maintenance of enhanced central pain processing.

Methods

Pain assessment was performed on 48 patients with symptomatic knee OA and 21 sex- and age-matched pain-free healthy control subjects. Twenty of the OA patients subsequently underwent total knee replacement surgery and were reassessed. Pressure–pain thresholds (PPTs) were recorded using a pressure algometer (both over and distant from the knee) and a double-chamber inflatable cuff mounted around the calf. Spatial summation was assessed by relating PPTs using the dual- and single-chamber cuff. Conditioned pain modulation (CPM) was assessed by recording the increase in PPT in response to experimental arm pain.

Results

PPTs at the knee and at sites away from the knee were reduced in OA patients as compared with healthy pain-free control subjects (P < 0.0001). Cuff PPTs were decreased in OA patients as compared with the healthy controls (P < 0.05), who also exhibited a greater degree of spatial summation (P < 0.05). Whereas an elevation of PPTs was noted in the healthy controls in response to experimental arm pain (P < 0.0001), no such CPM was observed in the OA patients. Following joint replacement in the OA patients, there was a reduction in the widespread mechanical hyperesthesia, along with normalization of spatial summation ratios and restoration of CPM.

Conclusion

The widespread hyperesthesia and enhanced spatial summation observed in OA patients imply sensitized central pain mechanisms together with the loss of CPM. Normalization of the results following joint replacement implies that these central pain processes are maintained by peripheral input.