Jessica A. Peterson1, Cameron Lohman1, Michael G. Bemben1 (FACSM), Rebecca Larson1 and Christopher D. Black1 (FACSM)

1Department of Health and Exercise Science, University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK.

Chronic pain and obesity are significant public health issues. Although the association between a higher BMI and chronic pain has been established, little data exist on the relationship among direct measures of body composition and pain sensitivity. PURPOSE: The purpose of the study was to examine the relationship between pressure pain thresholds (PPT), total body fat and lean tissue, and fat and muscle mass at the PPT assessment site. METHODS: PPT of 56 participants (30 female) were assessed in the vastus lateralis (VL) and brachioradialis (BR) using a pressure algometer on the left (L) and right (R) sides of the body. Whole body and limb specific fat and lean tissue were assessed via DEXA scan, and muscle and fat thickness were assessed in the VL and BR using ultrasound and skinfold measures. RESULTS: No significant relationships were found in BR PPT and whole-body fat% (LBR: r = -0.17, p = 0.20; RBR: r = -0.16, p =0.24), total fat mass (LBR: r = -0.03, p = 0.85; RBR: r = -0.03, p = 0.81), fat% within the limb (LBR: r = -0.05, p = 0.73; RBR: r = -0.09, p = 0.52), fat thickness at the measured site (LBR: r = -0.07, p = 0.59; RBR: r = -0.07, p = 0.63), and skinfold thickness at the measured site (LBR: r = 0.05, p=0.71; RBR: r = 0.07, p=0.62). Similarly, no relationships between PPT and fat assessments were observed in the VL with the exception of fat% within the dominant (D) VL (r = -0.30, p = 0.03). With regards to lean mass, LBR and non-dominant (ND) VL had significant correlations with total lean mass (LBR: r = 0.30, p = 0.02, NDVL: r = 0.45, p ≤ 0.001), lean mass in the limb (LBR: r = 0.32, p = 0.02; NDVL: r = 0.43, p ≤ 0.001), and muscle thickness (LBR: r = 0.30, p = 0.03; NDL: r = 0.30, p = 0.03). The DVL had significant correlations for total lean mass (r = 0.47, p ≤ 0.001) and lean mass in the limb (r = .45, p ≤ 0.001), but not for muscle thickness (r = 0.21, p = 0.13). The RBR showed significant correlations with lean mass in the limb (r =0.28, p = 0.04), but not total lean mass (r = 0.23, p = 0.09) or muscle thickness (r = 0.15, p = 0.26). CONCLUSION: PPT and assessments of fat tissue were not related. However, lean mass tended to have a positive relationship with PPT. These findings suggest a loss of lean tissue mass, which typically occurs with aging and inactivity, may play a role in increased sensitivity to pain. Future research should examine pain sensitivity and muscle mass in the aging population.


The authors wish to thank the participants for their time and effort. Funding for this study was provided by a University of Oklahoma Graduate College Robberson Research Grant to D Schubert.

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