Methods to Measure Peripheral and Central Pain Sensitization Using Quantitative Sensory Testing: A Focus on Individuals with Low Back Pain

16 July 2015

This paper proposes a standardized method for performing various modalities of quantitative sensory testing (QST) in patients with low back pain. It concludes that such QST protocol can help to evaluate the mechanisms of low back pain – central and peripheral – and can be used for individualized treatment, based on the mechanism involved.


Quantitative sensory testing (QST) is a non-invasive method to evaluate the function of large and small nerve fibers and of peripheral and central sensory pathways. QST is used in many researches for various approaches, but standardization of the protocol is sometimes missing. This article’s purpose is to provide a standard protocol for using QST in patients with low back pain (LBP).

The QST measures described in this paper are mechanical pain threshold and pain tolerance, mechanical temporal summation, dynamic mechanical allodynia; vibration detection threshold; thermal testings’ including warm and cold detection thresholds and heat and cold pain thresholds; conditioned pain modulation test (with thermal test and conditioning stimuli); thermal temporal summation; pressure pain threshold. The paper describes the protocol for each measurement, equipment used and analysis techniques.

The paper emphasizes the importance of the measurement standardization, raises further steps that need to be taken to implement QST into the clinical practice and suggests that QST can be used for various approaches – detecting individual pain perception differences, dividing between peripheral and central mechanisms of pain, etc. – and also can serve to develop personalized treatment based on the individual pain mechanism and to evaluate the treatment effectiveness.