Physiological and behavioral responses to calibrated noxious stimuli among individuals with cerebral palsy and intellectual disability

Tali Benromano, Chaim G. Pick, Joav Merick, Ruth Defrin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective. As individuals with intellectual disability (ID) due to cerebral palsy (CP) are at high risk of experiencing pain, measuring their pain is crucial for adequate treatment. While verbal reports are the gold standard in pain measurements, they may not be sufficient in ID. The aim was to detect behavioral/ autonomic responses that may indicate the presence and intensity of pain in individuals with CP and ID, using calibrated stimuli, here for the first time. Subjects. Thirteen adults with CP and ID (CPID), 15 healthy controls (HC), and 5 adults with CP with no ID (CPNID). Methods. Subjects received pressure stimuli of various intensities. Self-reports (using a pyramid scale), facial expressions (retrospectively analyzed with Facial Action Coding System5FACS), and autonomic function (heart rate, heart rate variability, pulse, galvanic skin response) were analyzed. Results. Self-reports and facial expressions but not the autonomic function exhibited stimulusresponse relationship to pressure stimulation among all groups. The CPID group had increased pain ratings and facial expressions compared with controls. In addition, the increase in facial expressions along the increase in noxious stimulation was larger than in controls. Freezing in response to pain was frequent in CPID. Conclusions. 1) Individuals with CP and ID have increased responses to pain; 2) facial expressions and self-reports, but not autonomic variables can reliably indicate their pain intensity; 3) the pyramid scale is suitable for self-report in this population. Although facial expressions may replace verbal reports, increased facial expressions at rest among these individuals may mask pain, especially at lower intensities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)441-453
Number of pages13
JournalPain Medicine
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2017


  • Autonomic Function
  • Cognitive Impairment
  • Experimental Pain
  • Pain Behavior
  • Perception


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