Effects of Acute Pain vs Context Change on Motor Learning Retention in Young Adults


To date, the effects of pain on motor learning have not been thoroughly investigated. When examining potential effects on retention of motor learning, it is important to dissociate any effects of pain from effects of a context change. The purpose of this research is to determine whether any altered retention of motor learning associated with acute pain is a true affect of pain or an affect of context (or both).

Study Type

  • Study Type: Interventional
  • Study Design
    • Allocation: Randomized
    • Intervention Model: Parallel Assignment
    • Primary Purpose: Basic Science
    • Masking: None (Open Label)
  • Study Primary Completion Date: December 15, 2023


  • Procedure: pain delivery – learning only
    • Experimental pain paradigm delivered (capsaicin cream combined with heat) that is short-term and painful but not harmful. Applied to skin just during the Day 1 learning period.
  • Procedure: pain delivery – learning and retention
    • Experimental pain paradigm delivered (capsaicin cream combined with heat) that is short-term and painful but not harmful. Applied to skin during the Day 1 learning period and again during the Day 2 retention period.

Arms, Groups and Cohorts

  • Experimental: Pain Stimulus – Learning Only
    • Capsaicin combined with heat applied to intact skin
  • Experimental: Pain Stimulus – Learning and Retention
    • Capsaicin combined with heat applied to intact skin
  • No Intervention: No Stimulus
    • Nothing applied to skin

Clinical Trial Outcome Measures

Primary Measures

  • Motor Retention Magnitude
    • Time Frame: 24 hours post learning (day 2)
    • degree to which the learned locomotor pattern has been remembered (in step length percent change, normalized to the amount learned from day 1)
  • Motor Learning Magnitude
    • Time Frame: immediately after learning (day 1)
    • degree to which the new locomotor pattern has been acquired (in step length percent change)

Participating in This Clinical Trial

Abbreviations: HR= heart rate, bpm= beats per minute; BP= blood pressure; ADD= attention deficit disorder; ADHD= attention deficit hyperactivity disorder; MoCA= Montreal Cognitive Assessment; GAD-7= Generalized Anxiety Disorder 7 Scale; PHQ-2, PHQ-9= Patient Health Questionnaire-2 and -9. Inclusion Criteria:

1.18-35 years old 2. Self-identifying as generally medically healthy 3. Able to read, write and speak English 4. Able to provide informed consent 5. Willing to undergo the experimental pain or non-painful electrical stimulation, if selected Exclusion Criteria:

1. Resting HR < 50 or > 100 bpm 2. Resting BP < 90/60 or > 140/95 mmHg 3. Any history or current mental health condition, learning/developmental disability or cognitive impairment, including ADD/ADHD, severe anxiety, severe depression, autism spectrum disorder, insomnia, mild cognitive impairment, etc. 4. Score on the MoCA <23 5. Score on the GAD-7 ≥ 10 6. Score on the PHQ-2 ≥ 2 and score on the PHQ-9 ≥ 10 7. Any current (within last 3 month) or chronic medical conditions, including any musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, endocrine, pulmonary, metabolic, psychiatric or neurological diagnosis 8. Any implanted electronic medical devices (i.e., cardiac pacemakers, cardiac defibrillators, spinal cord neurostimulators) 9. Any impaired sensation or weakness in either lower extremity or in the area targeted for the stimulus 10. History of serious concussion or head injury, defined as a loss of consciousness for > 5 minutes and/or requiring medical treatment, or > 2 concussions over the lifespan 11. Any history of acute or chronic problems with balance, any dizziness, or > 1 fall in the last 12 months 12. Taking 4 or more medications 13. Currently or regularly using any analgesic medications, over-the-counter remedies, or any other treatment for the purposes of pain relief (i.e., baby aspirin for heart health permitted, etc.) 14. Any current or chronic pain condition during the last year, located anywhere in the body 15. Allergy to capsaicin or hot peppers 16. Any skin lesion, breakage or irritation in the area targeted for the painful stimulus 17. Skin sensitivity to soaps/creams/perfumes or to heat 18. Poor circulation in the area targeted for the painful stimulus 19. Prior participation in a locomotor learning study in this lab within the last 2 years

Gender Eligibility: All

Minimum Age: 18 Years

Maximum Age: 35 Years

Are Healthy Volunteers Accepted: Accepts Healthy Volunteers

Investigator Details

  • Lead Sponsor
    • University of Delaware
  • Provider of Information About this Clinical Study
    • Principal Investigator: Susanne M Morton, Associate Professor – University of Delaware
  • Overall Official(s)
    • Susanne M Morton, PhD, Principal Investigator, University of Delaware
  • Overall Contact(s)
    • Ashley Fath, (302) 283-9936, fath@udel.edu

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