Objective Measurement of Subjective Pain Perception with Autonomic Body Reactions in Healthy Subjects and Chronic Back Pain Patients: An Experimental Heat Pain Study

Luisa Luebke, Philip Gouverneur*, Tibor M. Szikszay, Wacław M. Adamczyk, Kerstin Luedtke, Marcin Grzegorzek

*Corresponding author for this work


Multiple attempts to quantify pain objectively using single measures of physiological body responses have been performed in the past, but the variability across participants reduces the usefulness of such methods. Therefore, this study aims to evaluate whether combining multiple autonomic parameters is more appropriate to quantify the perceived pain intensity of healthy subjects (HSs) and chronic back pain patients (CBPPs) during experimental heat pain stimulation. HS and CBPP received different heat pain stimuli adjusted for individual pain tolerance via a CE-certified thermode. Different sensors measured physiological responses. Machine learning models were trained to evaluate performance in distinguishing pain levels and identify key sensors and features for the classification task. The results show that distinguishing between no and severe pain is significantly easier than discriminating lower pain levels. Electrodermal activity is the best marker for distinguishing between low and high pain levels. However, recursive feature elimination showed that an optimal subset of features for all modalities includes characteristics retrieved from several modalities. Moreover, the study’s findings indicate that differences in physiological responses to pain in HS and CBPP remain small.

Original languageEnglish
Article number8231
Issue number19
Publication statusPublished - 10.2023

Research Areas and Centers

  • Health Sciences

DFG Research Classification Scheme

  • 205-01 Epidemiology, Medical Biometrics/Statistics
  • 206-05 Experimental Models for Investigating Diseases of the Nervous System
  • 206-03 Experimental and Theoretical Neurosciences of Networks
  • 205-04 Physiology

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