The impact of the social context on the development of secondary hyperalgesia:an experimental study


Social support has been shown to reduce pain ratings and physiological responses to acute pain stimuli. Furthermore, this relationship is moderated by adult attachment styles. However, these effects have not been characterized in experimentally induced symptoms of chronic pain, such as secondary hyperalgesia (SH) which is characterized by an increased sensitivity of the skin surrounding an injury. We aimed to examine whether social support by handholding from a romantic partner can attenuate the development of experimentally induced SH. Thirty-seven women, along with their partners, participated in 2 experimental sessions 1 week apart. In both sessions, SH was induced using an electrical stimulation protocol. In the support condition, the partner was seated across from the participant holding the participant's hand during the electrical stimulation, whereas in the alone condition, the participant went through the stimulation alone. Heart rate variability was measured for both the participant as well as the partner before, during, and after the stimulation. We found that the width of the area of hyperalgesia was significantly smaller in the support condition. Attachment styles did not moderate this effect of social support on the area width. Increasing attachment avoidance was associated with both a smaller width of hyperalgesia and a smaller increase in the sensitivity on the stimulated arm. For the first time, we show that social support can attenuate the development of secondary hyperalgesia and that attachment avoidance may be associated with an attenuated development of secondary hyperalgesia

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