Objective: Psychological stress is known to impair skin barrier recovery, but little is known about the impact of pain on skin healing processes. Our primary goals were to examine the degree to which acute pain affects recovery from skin barrier disruption, and the potential mediating impact of cortisol and catecholamines. Methods: Healthy non-smokers aged 18-43 (N = 53, 65% women) underwent a 3-minute cold pressor pain stimulus to their foot. Tape-stripping of forearm skin occurred at two separate locations: before (site 1) and after (site 2) the pain stimulus. Transepidural water loss (TEWL) was assessed at baseline (pre-stripping), immediately post-stripping, and at 75. min to determine skin barrier recovery. Cortisol and catecholamine responses were obtained from multiple saliva and plasma samples, respectively. Results: Contrary to expectations, greater pain was associated with faster skin barrier recovery, even after controlling for demographics, mood, anxiety, and other factors. Those who reported higher pain showed faster recovery at site 2 compared to a) individuals who experienced lower pain; and b) their own recovery at site 1. Greater increase in norepinephrine (but not in cortisol) was also associated with faster recovery at site 2, and mediated the impact of pain on recovery. Discussion: Results bolster evidence that acute pain can affect immune-related processes. It is possible that acute pain may speed recovery from dermal abrasions, although pain is likely to impair recovery from more severe wounds. As pain is an important potential target for clinical intervention, further investigation of pain, stress, and healing processes is warranted.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Clinical Psychology
- Psychiatry and Mental health