Early changes in somatosensory function in spinal pain: A systematic review and meta-analysis

Anna Marcuzzi*, Catherine M. Dean, Paul J. Wrigley, Julia M. Hush

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)


Alterations in sensory processing have been demonstrated in chronic low back and neck pain. However, it has not been yet systematically summarized how early these changes occur in spinal pain. This systematic review examines the available literature measuring somatosensory function in acute (<6 weeks) and subacute (6-12 weeks) spinal pain. The protocol for this review has been registered on the International Prospective Register of Systematic Reviews (PROSPERO). An electronic search of 4 databases was conducted to retrieve studies assessing somatosensory function by quantitative sensory testing in adults with spinal pain of up to 12 weeks duration. Two reviewers independently screened the studies and assessed the risk of bias. Studies were grouped according to spinal pain condition (whiplash injury, idiopathic neck pain, and nonspecific low back pain), and, where possible, meta-analyses were performed for comparable results. Fifteen studies were included. Sources of bias included lack of assessor blinding, unclear sampling methods, and lack of control for confounders. We found that: (1) there is consistent evidence for thermal and widespread mechanical pain hypersensitivity in the acute stage of whiplash, (2) there is no evidence for pain hypersensitivity in the acute and subacute stage of idiopathic neck pain, although the body of evidence is small, and (3) hyperalgesia and spinal cord hyperexcitability have been detected in early stages of nonspecific low back pain, although evidence about widespread effects are conflicting. Future longitudinal research using multiple sensory modalities and standardized testing may reveal the involvement of somatosensory changes in the development and maintenance of chronic pain.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)203-214
Number of pages12
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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