About Pain Testing

How Do You Test Pain?

We use a variety of tests to measure how someone responds to pain – these are sometimes referred to as Quantitative Sensory Testing (QST), or Psychophysical Tests. Each of the tests are described more below – and you’ll review these in detail with your researcher before you begin. Not all of these tests are used in all studies. Each test is chosen to look at a specific type of processing, and your researcher will answer all your questions about how and why the tests are conducted.

Are the Tests Safe?

All of the tests are very safe. Your safety is our highest priority in any of our appointments. We protect your safety in a number of ways:

  • None of these tests are designed to cause lasting harm — the equipment and methods are chosen to elicit pain, but not to actually damage the skin, or underlying tissue or muscles.
  • All of our staff are well trained — our researchers are tested on their training before being able to conduct these tests, and are retrained every year. We have also set safety limits for all of our tests.
  • The equipment is closely monitored — the heat devices are designed not to exceed safe temperatures and have automatic shut-off. Our staff pay close attention to all of the tests and equipment to make sure they are operating correctly. We also clean all of our equipment in between each use with sterile supplies to ensure cleanliness.
  • We ask you questions to make sure you are safe to receive the testing — if you have specific skin conditions such as dermatographia, you should let us know and we will not conduct any tests that you might be sensitive to.

Even with all of our precautions, there are some small risks – this includes a burn such as a bad sunburn, or a puncture. These happen very infrequently (less than once a year). If something did occur, you would meet with one of our study physicians, who would make sure that it is healing appropriately.

How Do the Tests Work?

Our most common tests are described below. You may not experience all of these during your study – your research team will tell you which tests you’ll participate in, and will describe the methods in much more detail. Sometimes the tests will be combined, which tells us more complex information about how you process pain. Your participation in any of these tests is completely voluntary.