A task-relevant experimental pain model to target motor adaptation

Alessio Gallina, Jacques Abboud, Jean-Sébastien Blouin

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Contemporary pain adaptation theories predict that motor adaptation occurs to limit pain. Current experimental pain models, however, do not allow for pain intensity modulation according to one's posture or movements. We developed a task‐relevant experimental pain model using low‐frequency sinusoidal electrical stimuli applied over the infrapatellar fat pad. In fourteen participants, we compared perceived pain habituation and stimulation‐induced artefacts in vastus medialis electromyographic recordings elicited by sinusoidal (4, 10, 20 and 50 Hz) and square electrical waveforms delivered at constant peak stimulation amplitude. Next, we simulated a clinical condition where perceived knee pain intensity is proportional to the load applied on the leg by controlling sinusoidal current amplitude (4 Hz) according to the vertical force the participants applied with their right leg to the ground while standing upright. Pain ratings habituated over a 60 s period for 50 Hz sinusoidal and square waveforms but not for low‐frequency sinusoidal stimuli (P < 0.001). EMG filters removed most stimulation artefacts for low‐frequency sinusoidal stimuli (4 Hz). While balancing upright, participants’ pain ratings were correlated with the force applied by the right leg (R2 = 0.65), demonstrating task‐relevant changes in perceived pain intensity. Low‐frequency sinusoidal stimuli can induce knee pain of constant intensity for 60 s with minimal EMG artefacts while enabling task‐relevant pain modulation when controlling current amplitude. By enabling task‐dependent modulation of perceived pain intensity, our novel experimental model replicates key temporal aspects of clinical musculoskeletal pain while allowing quantification of neuromuscular activation during painful electrical stimulation. This approach will enable researchers to test the predicted relationship between movement strategies and pain.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2401-2417
JournalThe Journal of Physiology
Issue number9
Early online date26 Feb 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2021


  • EMG
  • adaptation
  • electrical stimulation
  • knee
  • pain

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology


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