Nonlinear increase of pain in distance-based and area-based spatial summation

Wacław M. Adamczyk*, Linn Manthey, Christin Domeier, Tibor M. Szikszay, Kerstin Luedtke

*Corresponding author for this work
5 Citations (Scopus)


When nociceptive stimulation affects a larger body area, pain increases. This effect is called spatial summation of pain (SSp). The aim of this study was to describe SSp as a function of the size or distance of a stimulated area(s) and to test how this function is shaped by the intensity and SSp test paradigm. Thirty-one healthy volunteers participated in a within-subject experiment. Participants were exposed to area-based and distanced-based SSp. For area-based SSp, electrocutaneous noxious stimuli were applied by up to 5 electrodes (5 areas) forming a line-like pattern; for distance-based SSp, the same position and lengths of stimuli were used but only 2 electrodes were stimulated. Each paradigm was repeated using pain of low, moderate, and high intensity. It was found that the pattern of pain intensity followed a logarithmic (power) rather than a linear function. The dynamics of the pain increase were significantly different across pain intensities, with more summation occurring when pain was perceived as low. Results indicated that area-based SSp is more painful than distance-based SSp when low and moderate but not when high pain intensity is induced. Presented findings have important implications for all studies in which the spatial dimension of pain is measured. When the area or separation between nociceptive stimulation increases, pain does not increase linearly and the pattern of the pain increase is a result of the interaction between intensity and the number of nociceptive sites. A power function should be considered when predicting the size of a nociceptive source.

Original languageEnglish
Issue number6
Pages (from-to)1771-1780
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 01.06.2021

Research Areas and Centers

  • Health Sciences

DFG Research Classification Scheme

  • 205-04 Physiology
  • 206-03 Experimental and Theoretical Neurosciences of Networks
  • 206-05 Experimental Models for Investigating Diseases of the Nervous System

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