Quantitative and Qualitative Responses to Topical Cold in Healthy Caucasians Show Variance between Individuals but High Test-Retest Reliability.
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Increased sensitivity to cold may be a predictor of persistent pain, but cold pain threshold is often viewed as unreliable. This study aimed to determine the within-subject reliability and between-subject variance of cold response, measured comprehensively as cold pain threshold plus pain intensity and sensation quality at threshold. A test-retest design was used over three sessions, one day apart. Response to cold was assessed at four sites (thenar eminence, volar forearm, tibialis anterior, plantar foot). Cold pain threshold was measured using a Medoc thermode and standard method of limits. Intensity of pain at threshold was rated using a 10cm visual analogue scale. Quality of sensation at threshold was quantified with indices calculated from subjects' selection of descriptors from a standard McGill Pain Questionnaire. Within-subject reliability for each measure was calculated with intra-class correlation coefficients and between-subject variance was evaluated as group coefficient of variation percentage (CV%). Gender and site comparisons were also made. Forty-five healthy adults participated: 20 male, 25 female; mean age 29 (range 18-56) years. All measures at all four test sites showed high within-subject reliability: cold pain thresholds r = 0.92-0.95; pain rating r = 0.93-0.97; McGill pain quality indices r = 0.87-0.85. In contrast, all measures showed wide between-subject variance (CV% between 51.4% and 92.5%). Upper limb sites were consistently more sensitive than lower limb sites, but equally reliable. Females showed elevated cold pain thresholds, although similar pain intensity and quality to males. Females were also more reliable and showed lower variance for all measures. Thus, although there was clear population variation, response to cold for healthy individuals was found to be highly reliable, whether measured as pain threshold, pain intensity or sensation quality. A comprehensive approach to cold response testing therefore may add validity and improve acceptance of this potentially important pain measure.Thus, although there was clear population variation, response to cold for healthy individuals was found to be highly reliable, whether measured as pain threshold, pain intensity or sensation quality. A comprehensive approach to cold response testing therefore may add validity and improve acceptance of this potentially important pain measure.
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