The Effect of Distraction Strategies on Pain Perception and the Nociceptive Flexor Reflex (RIII Reflex)






Distraction from pain reduces pain perception, and imaging studies have suggested that this may at least partially be mediated by activation of descending pain inhibitory systems. Here, we used the nociceptive flexor reflex (RIII reflex) to directly quantify the effects of different distraction strategies on basal spinal nociception and its temporal summation. Twenty-seven healthy subjects participated in 3 distraction tasks (mental imagery, listening to preferred music, spatial discrimination of brush stimuli) and, in a fourth task, concentrated on the painful stimulus. Results show that all 3 distraction tasks reduced pain perception, but only the brush task also reduced the RIII reflex. The concentration-on-pain task increased both pain perception and the RIII reflex. The extent of temporal summation of pain perception and the extent of temporal summation of the RIII reflex were not affected by any of the tasks. These results suggest that some, but not all, forms of pain reduction by distraction rely on descending pain inhibition. In addition, pain reduction by distraction seems to preferentially affect mechanisms of basal nociceptive transmission, not of temporal summation.

Music and Health Institute Terms

Experimentally Induced Pain; Music Listening; Music Medicine; Pain; Pain Management and Control; Recorded Music Listening

Indexed Terms

Attention; Electric Stimulation; Heart Rate; Imagination; Nociception; Nociceptors; Pain Threshold; Physical Stimulation; Reflex; Touch Perception

Study Type

Quasi-Experimental Study; Quantitative Methods

PubMed ID


Document Type