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When cooling of the skin is perceived as warmth: Enhanced paradoxical heat sensation by pre-cooling of the skin in healthy individuals

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A paradoxical heat sensation (PHS) is the misperception of warmth when the skin is cooled. PHS is uncommon in healthy individuals but common in patients with neuropathy and is associated with reduced thermal sensitivity. Identifying conditions that contribute to PHS may indirectly help us understand why some patients experience PHS. We hypothesized that pre-warming increased the number of PHS and that pre-cooling had minimal effect on PHS. We tested 100 healthy participants’ thermal sensitivity on the dorsum of their feet by measuring detection and pain thresholds to cold and warm stimuli and PHS. PHS was measured using the thermal sensory limen (TSL) procedure from the quantitative sensory testing protocol of the German Research Network on Neuropathic Pain and by using a modified TSL protocol (mTSL). In the mTSL we examined the participants’ thermal detection and PHS after pre-warming of 38°C and 44°C and pre-cooling of 26°C and 20°C. Compared to a baseline condition, the number of PHS responders was significantly increased after pre-cooling (20°C: RR = 1.9 (1.1; 3.3), p = 0.023 and 26°C: RR = 1.9 (1.2; 3.2), p = 0.017), but not significantly after pre-warming (38°C: RR = 1.5 (0.86; 2.8), p = 0.21 and 44°C: RR = 1.7 (.995; 2.9), p = 0.078). Pre-warming and pre-cooling increased the detection threshold of both cold and warm temperatures. We discussed these findings in relation to thermal sensory mechanisms and possible PHS mechanisms. In conclusion, PHS and thermosensation are closely related and pre-cooling can induce PHS responses in healthy individuals.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)248-263
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - 2023

    Research areas

  • Paradoxical cold sensation, paradoxical heat sensation, pre-cooling, pre-warming, thermal perception

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