Effects of heterotopic- and segmental counter-stimulation on the nociceptive withdrawal reflex in humans


A. J. Terkelsen, Danish Pain Research Centre, University Hospital of Aarhus, Nørrebrogade 44, Building 1 C, DK-8000 Aarhus, Denmark.


A nociceptive withdrawal reflex in 12 human volunteers was elicited by painful electrical stimulation applied to the cutaneous innervation area of the sural nerve. The evoked electromyographic reflex activities were recorded with surface electrodes placed on the short head of the biceps femoris muscle ipsi-lateral to sural nerve stimulation, before, during and after conditioning stimuli. The nociceptive withdrawal reflex was conditioned by nociceptive and non-nociceptive, heterotopic and segmental counter-stimulation. Heterotopic nociceptive counter-stimulation and segmental nociceptive counter-stimulation were induced by ice water applied to the contra-lateral hand and foot, respectively. Heterotopic nociceptive counter-stimulation produced a significant inhibition of the nociceptive withdrawal reflex and the associated pains rating to sural nerve stimulation. Segmental nociceptive counter-stimulation inhibited the pain rating and tended to inhibit the nociceptive withdrawal reflex. There was no obvious correlation between visual analogue scale (VAS) and the nociceptive withdrawal reflex elicited by sural nerve stimulation neither in the group nor in the individual subject. This suggests that the nociceptive withdrawal reflex cannot always be used as a quantitative measure of pain.