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The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
KP has been active in all aspects of the study: conception, design, acquisition of data (main responsibility), analysis and interpretation of data, writing of the manuscript and final approval. ALP contributed to the conception, design, analysis, and interpretation of data (main responsibility), writing of manuscript and final approval. BHS had main responsibility for the conception and design of the study, contributed to the interpretation of data and participated in writing of manuscript and final approval. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.
Falanga torture (beatings on the foot soles) produces local chronic pain and severe walking difficulties. We have previously reported signs of neuropathic pain in the feet of falanga victims. The objective here was to clarify underlying pain mechanisms by quantifying sensory impairments in the feet of torture victims who had experienced both generalized torture and those who had been exposed to falanga in addition. An ethnically matched control group was available.
We employed quantitative sensory testing (QST) by investigators blinded to whether the patients, 32 male torture victims from the Middle East, had (n=15), or had not (n=17) been exposed to falanga. Pain intensity, area and stimulus dependence were used to characterize the pain as were interview data on sensory symptoms. QST included thresholds for touch, cold, warmth, cold-pain, heat-pain, deep pressure pain and wind-up to cutaneous noxious stimuli in the foot soles. Clinical data on anxiety and depression were retrieved.
Almost all falanga victims had moderate or strong pain in their feet and in twice as large an area of their foot soles as other torture victims. One-third of the latter had no pain in their feet and many reported slight pain; in spite of this, there were no differences in foot sole QST data between the tortured groups. A comparison with normal data indicated that both tortured groups had hypoesthesia for all cutaneous sensory fibre groups except those transmitting cold and heat pain, in addition to deep mechano-nociceptive hyperalgesia.
A comparison of the QST data between victims having been exposed to generalized torture and victims who in addition had been exposed to falanga, showed no differences on the group level. The sensory disturbances in relation to our control group are compatible with central sensitization and de-sensitization, pointing to a core role of central mechanisms. A further analysis to create individual sensory profiles from our measurements is in progress.