Objective. Oral sodium channel blockers have shown mixed results in randomized controlled trials despite the known importance of sodium channels in generating pain. We hypothesized that differing baseline pain qualities (e.g. “stabbing” vs “dull”) might define specific subgroups responsive to intravenous (IV) lidocaine—a potent sodium channel blocker.
Design. A prospective cohort study of 71 patient with chronic pain suspected of being neuropathic were recruited between January 2003 and July 2007 and underwent lidocaine infusions at Stanford University Hospital in a single-blind nonrandomized fashion. Baseline sensory pain qualities were measured with the Short-Form McGill Pain Questionnaire (SF-MPQ). Pain intensity was measured with a visual analog scale (VAS).
Results. Factor analysis demonstrated two underlying pain quality factors among SF-MPQ sensory items: a heavy pain and a stabbing pain. Baseline heavy pain quality, but not stabbing quality predicted subsequent relief of pain intensity in response to lidocaine. In contrast, these factors did not predict divergent analgesic responses to placebo infusions. In response to each 1 mcg/mL increase in lidocaine plasma level, patients with high heavy pain quality drop their VAS 0.24 (95% CI 0.05–0.43) more points than those with low heavy pain quality (P < 0.013).
Conclusions. “Heavy” pain quality may indentify patients with enhanced lidocaine responsiveness. Pain quality may identify subgroups among patients with suspected neuropathic pain responsive to IV lidocaine. Further investigation is warranted to validate and extend these findings.