Gastrointestinal pain: a systematic review of temporal summation of pain paradigms and outcomes

Danielle Huisman*, Michael Mansfield, Tatum Cummins, Rona Moss-Morris, Stephen McMahon, Kirsty Bannister

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Background and Objective: Since targeted treatment for gastrointestinal pain is elusive, identifying the mechanistic underpinning of this pain type is important. Facilitation of spinal neuronal responses underpins certain pain types, and the psychophysical temporal summation of pain (TSP) paradigm provides a proxy measure of spinal facilitatory processes. Our aim was to systematically review whether facilitated TSP is a feature of gastrointestinal pain in patients with, or pain-free people experiencing experimentally induced, gastrointestinal pain. Databases and Data Treatment: EMBASE, MEDLINE, PsychInfo, CINAHL, and Web of Science were systematically searched, from inception to July 2023, for human studies reporting TSP paradigm outcomes in the context of gastrointestinal pain. The Appraisal tool for Cross-Sectional studies was used for quality assessment and applied independently by two researchers. Results: Fifteen papers consisting of cross-sectional (n = 6), case–control (n = 8), and retrospective cohort (n = 1) studies, were included. Thirteen studies investigated TSP in people with gastrointestinal pain with (n = 5) or without (n = 8) defined pathology. Two studies evoked TSP by repetitive gut stimulation in people undergoing abdominal medical procedures. Preliminary evidence showed that facilitated TSP correlated with the presence of functional gastrointestinal pain in women, and those with a history of trauma. No effect was observed in people with inflammatory bowel disease, although it was often unclear if they experienced pain. Conclusions: It is not possible to conclude whether facilitated TSP is a feature of gastrointestinal pain. We recommend that subgroup findings are corroborated and that TSP paradigms are standardized in order that direct comparisons between studies may be made. Significance Statement: Evidence indicated that pain facilitatory processes, as evidenced by a facilitated TSP outcome, contribute to functional gastrointestinal pain in women and those with a history of trauma. However, heterogeneity of study populations and paradigms precluded statistical synthesis and findings would need be corroborated. Studies exploring facilitatory processes in people with inflammatory bowel diseases did not report significant results, but pain is not a given in these conditions and, conversely, may be driven by peripheral inflammation during active disease. This should be taken in consideration in future explorations. Registration Review: PROSPERO CRD42022341845.

Original languageEnglish
Early online date31 May 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 31 May 2024


  • Temporal summation of pain
  • gastrointestinal pain
  • irritable bowel syndrome
  • inflammatory bowel disease
  • functional gastrointestinal disorders


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