Objectives: Arm pain is a common cause of incapacity for work, and is often attributed to occupational activities, but in many cases the pathogenesis is unclear. This study investigated whether arm pain in the absence of identifiable underlying pathology is associated with reduced tolerance of painful sensory stimuli.
Methods: 133 incident cases of arm pain, recruited from primary care and physiotherapy services, were classified according to a validated diagnostic algorithm. Pain tolerance was measured at three sites in each arm in response to electrocutaneous stimulation. Associations with pain tolerance (the geometric mean of the six measurements at 5Hz) were assessed by linear regression, and findings were summarised as proportional changes in pain tolerance.
Results: Pain tolerance was generally lower than in an earlier community survey. Women had a lower tolerance than men. After allowance for sex, age, use of analgesics and anatomical extent of pain, there was no indication of reduced tolerance in patients with non-specific pain relative to those with specific local pathology.
Conclusions: Pain tolerance may be generally reduced in patients presenting to medical services with arm pain, but those with non-specific pain do not appear to have lower tolerance than those with identifiable local pathology.
- upper limb
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