Circadian pain patterns in human pain conditions - A systematic review


Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center


Background: Chronobiology is the science of how physiological processes in the body follow a pattern of time. Pain has been shown to follow a circadian rhythm, with different types of pain having variable expression along this rhythm.

Objective: This article reviews the nature of diurnal variations in pain along with a discussion of the mechanisms of circadian rhythm of pain.

Evidence review: We conducted a literature search on the PubMed and Google Scholar electronic databases, through April 2022. Publications were screened for English language, full-text availability, and human subjects. Randomized controlled trials and observational trials were included. Data was extracted from studies on patients with acute or chronic pain phenotypes, which provide pain severity data and corresponding diurnal time points.

Findings: The literature search led to the inclusion of 39 studies. A circadian pattern of pain was found to be present in nociceptive, neuropathic, central and mixed pain states. Postoperative pain, fibromyalgia, trigeminal neuralgia and migraines were associated with higher pain scores in the morning. Temporomandibular joint pain, neuropathic pain, labor pain, biliary colic and cluster headaches increased throughout the day to reach a peak in the evening or night. Arthritis and cancer pain were not associated with any circadian rhythmicity. Furthermore, the circadian rhythm of pain was not found to be altered in patients on analgesics.

Conclusion: The results of this review suggest that an understanding of diurnal variation may help improve therapeutic strategies in pain management, for instance through analgesic titration.



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