Pain influences plasticity within the sensorimotor system and the aim of this study was to assess the effect of pain on changes in motor performance and corticospinal excitability during training for a novel motor task. A total of 30 subjects were allocated to one of two groups (Pain, NoPain) and performed ten training blocks of a visually-guided isometric pinch task. Each block consisted of 15 force sequences, and subjects modulated the force applied to a transducer in order to reach one of five target forces. Pain was induced by applying capsaicin cream to the thumb. Motor performance was assessed by a skill index that measured shifts in the speed–accuracy trade-off function. Neurophysiological measures were taken from the first dorsal interosseous using transcranial magnetic stimulation. Overall, the Pain group performed better throughout the training (p
= 0.03), but both groups showed similar improvements across training blocks (p
< 0.001), and there was no significant interaction. Corticospinal excitability in the NoPain group increased halfway through the training, but this was not observed in the Pain group (Time × Group interaction; p
= 0.01). These results suggest that, even when pain does not negatively impact on the acquisition of a novel motor task, it can affect training-related changes in corticospinal excitability.
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