Temperature and the cold pressor test

Laura A. Mitchell, Raymond A.R. Macdonald, Eric E. Brodie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

240 Citations (Scopus)


As a method of experimental pain induction, the cold pressor test is thought to mimic the effects of chronic conditions effectively. A survey of previous studies using the cold pressor, however, revealed a lack of standardization and control of water temperature, questioning comparability and reliability. This study reports the influence of temperature on pain tolerance and intensity by using a commercially available circulating water bath. Twenty-six participants (12 men, 14 women) underwent 4 cold pressor trials with temperature order counterbalanced across 1°C, 3°C, 5°C, and 7°C, temperatures representative of the range used in previous literature. After each cold immersion participants rated pain intensity on a visual analogue scale and the McGill Pain Questionnaire. Tolerance times were recorded for each trial. Significant main effects of temperature were found for tolerance time, with higher temperatures resulting in longer times, and pain intensity, with lower temperatures resulting in higher intensities. Gender differences were found, with men tolerating the stimulus for significantly longer than women. It was concluded that small differences in water temperature have a significant effect on pain intensity and tolerance time. The use of cold pressor equipment that ensures a precise constant temperature of circulating water is necessary to ensure comparable and reliable results.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Pain
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2004


  • cold pressor test
  • pain tolerance
  • temperature


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