Local subcutaneous and muscle pain impairs detection of passive movements at the human thumb Academic Article uri icon


  • Activity in both muscle spindle endings and cutaneous stretch receptors contributes to the sensation of joint movement. The present experiments assessed whether muscle pain and subcutaneous pain distort proprioception in humans. The ability to detect the direction of passive movements at the interphalangeal joint of the thumb was measured when pain was induced experimentally in four sites: the flexor pollicis longus (FPL), the subcutaneous tissue overlying this muscle, the flexor carpi radialis (FCR) muscle and the subcutaneous tissue distal to the metacarpophalangeal joint of thumb. Tests were conducted when pain was at a similar subjective intensity. There was no significant difference in the ability to detect flexion or extension under any painful or non-painful condition. The detection of movement was significantly impaired when pain was induced in the FPL muscle, but pain in the FCR, a nearby muscle that does not act on the thumb, had no effect. Subcutaneous pain also significantly impaired movement detection when initiated in skin overlying the thumb, but not in skin overlying the FPL muscle in the forearm. These findings suggest that while both muscle and skin pain can disturb the detection of the direction of movement, the impairment is site-specific and involves regions and tissues that have a proprioceptive role at the joint. Also, pain induced in FPL did not significantly increase the perceived size of the thumb. Proprioceptive mechanisms signalling perceived body size are less disturbed by a relevant muscle nociceptive input than those subserving movement detection. The results highlight the complex relationship between nociceptive inputs and their influence on proprioception and motor control.

publication date

  • July 1, 2008