What is Allodynia?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Those with tactile allodynia may feel pain when simply shaking someone's hand.
Those with tactile allodynia may feel pain when simply shaking someone's hand.

Allodynia is pain which occurs in response to a stimulus which is usually not painful. In a simple example of allodynia, a patient might complain of pain after being gently brushed with a hand or a few fingers. This heightened sensitivity to touch is often associated with neurological conditions and chronic pain conditions, including neuropathies, fibromyalgia, and migraines. For patients, it can be extremely frustrating.

Allodynia is sometimes associated with migraine headaches and other neurological disorders.
Allodynia is sometimes associated with migraine headaches and other neurological disorders.

Tactile allodynia occurs in response to tactile stimuli, which can include things like the weight of a shirt, a breeze, a handshake, and so forth. These stimuli are generally not considered to be painful, and they do not cause injury to the body, but the body screams “pain” as it interprets these stimuli. Thermal allodynia is an extreme sensitivity to temperature changes. Again, the variations in temperature are not enough to cause damage to the body, but they are interpreted as painful.

It can be difficult to find a doctor that recognizes allodynia as the cause of one's pain.
It can be difficult to find a doctor that recognizes allodynia as the cause of one's pain.

This condition is believed to be caused by confused messages among the cells which interpret sensation. Painful sensations are usually interpreted by nocireceptors, and for some reason, these cells become involved when normally information about these sensations would be sent by different cells. The nocireceptors tell the brain that something injurious is being experienced, and the brain interprets this as pain. When something damaging actually is occurring, this response is desired, as it acts as a signal to address the harmful stimulus. In the case of allodynia, however, the pain signals serve no function.

Heightened sensitivity to touch is often associated with neurological conditions and chronic pain, including neuropathies, fibromyalgia and migraines.
Heightened sensitivity to touch is often associated with neurological conditions and chronic pain, including neuropathies, fibromyalgia and migraines.

This condition can be challenging to treat. Patients with pain conditions sometimes have trouble finding a doctor who recognizes their condition and who can take the time to perform testing to learn more about what may be going on to cause the heightened sensitivity to touch. Unfortunately, patients with pain conditions are sometimes accused of being drug seekers, and they may face denial of insurance benefits and other problems as they attempt to manage their conditions.

Since the cause of allodynia often cannot be cured, treatment focuses on managing it. Analgesic medications are used to dull the pain, with the dosages periodically being adjusted as the patient develops a tolerance to these medications. Once a cause is identified, medications may also be administered to manage the cause. Curiously, there are a number of neurological conditions which can be recognized and diagnosed, with medications available to treat these conditions, but doctors do not actually understand how these medications work in the body. This illustrates how much the scientific and medical community has to learn about the human body.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a TheHealthBoard researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a TheHealthBoard researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

anon79475

good info, thank you.

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    • Those with tactile allodynia may feel pain when simply shaking someone's hand.
      By: tsyhun
      Those with tactile allodynia may feel pain when simply shaking someone's hand.
    • Allodynia is sometimes associated with migraine headaches and other neurological disorders.
      By: MediablitzImages
      Allodynia is sometimes associated with migraine headaches and other neurological disorders.
    • It can be difficult to find a doctor that recognizes allodynia as the cause of one's pain.
      By: Monkey Business
      It can be difficult to find a doctor that recognizes allodynia as the cause of one's pain.
    • Heightened sensitivity to touch is often associated with neurological conditions and chronic pain, including neuropathies, fibromyalgia and migraines.
      By: Monkey Business
      Heightened sensitivity to touch is often associated with neurological conditions and chronic pain, including neuropathies, fibromyalgia and migraines.