Modification of Electrical Pain Threshold by Voluntary Breathing-Controlled Electrical Stimulation (BreEStim) in Healthy Subjects

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BACKGROUND: Pain has a distinct sensory and affective (i.e., unpleasantness) component. BreEStim, during which electrical stimulation is delivered during voluntary breathing, has been shown to selectively reduce the affective component of post-amputation phantom pain. The objective was to examine whether BreEStim increases pain threshold such that subjects could have improved tolerance of sensation of painful stimuli.<br /><br />METHODS: Eleven pain-free healthy subjects (7 males, 4 females) participated in the study. All subjects received BreEStim (100 stimuli) and conventional electrical stimulation (EStim, 100 stimuli) to two acupuncture points (Neiguan and Weiguan) of the dominant hand in a random order. The two different treatments were provided at least three days apart. Painful, but tolerable electrical stimuli were delivered randomly during EStim, but were triggered by effortful inhalation during BreEStim. Measurements of tactile sensation threshold, electrical sensation and electrical pain thresholds, thermal (cold sensation, warm sensation, cold pain and heat pain) thresholds were recorded from the thenar eminence of both hands. These measurements were taken pre-intervention and 10-min post-intervention.<br /><br />RESULTS: There was no difference in the pre-intervention baseline measurement of all thresholds between BreEStim and EStim. The electrical pain threshold significantly increased after BreEStim (27.5±6.7% for the dominant hand and 28.5±10.8% for the non-dominant hand, respectively). The electrical pain threshold significantly decreased after EStim (9.1±2.8% for the dominant hand and 10.2±4.6% for the non-dominant hand, respectively) (F[1, 10] = 30.992, p = .00024). There was no statistically significant change in other thresholds after BreEStim and EStim. The intensity of electrical stimuli was progressively increased, but no difference was found between BreEStim and EStim.<br /><br />CONCLUSION: Voluntary breathing controlled electrical stimulation selectively increases electrical pain threshold, while conventional electrical stimulation selectively decreases electrical pain threshold. This may translate into improved pain control.




Li, S., Berliner, J. C., Melton, D. H., & Li, S. (2013). Modification of Electrical Pain Threshold by Voluntary Breathing-Controlled Electrical Stimulation (BreEStim) in Healthy Subjects. PLoS ONE, 8(7).

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