BackgroundThe spinal nerve ligation (SNL) rat is well known as the most common rodent model of neuropathic pain without motor deficit. Researchers have performed analyses using only the von Frey and thermal withdrawal tests to evaluate pain intensity in the rat experimental model. However, these test are completely different from the neurological examinations performed clinically. We think that several behavioral reactions must be observed following SNL because the patients with neuropathic pain usually have impaired coordination of the motions of the right–left limbs and right–left joint motion differences. In this study, we attempted to clarify the pain behavioral reactions in SNL rat model as in patients. We used the Kinema-Tracer system for 3D kinematics gait analysis to identify new characteristic parameters of each joint movement and gait pattern.ResultsThe effect of SNL on mechanical allodynia was a 47 ± 6.1% decrease in the withdrawal threshold during 1–8 weeks post-operation. Sagittal trajectories of the hip, knee and ankle markers in SNL rats showed a large sagittal fluctuation of each joint while walking. Top minus bottom height of the left hip and knee that represents instability during walking was significantly larger in the SNL than sham rats. Both-foot contact time, which is one of the gait characteristics, was significantly longer in the SNL versus sham rats: 1.9 ± 0.15 s vs. 1.03 ± 0.15 s at 4 weeks post-operation (p = 0.003). We also examined the circular phase time to evaluate coordination of the right and left hind-limbs. The ratio of the right/left circular time was 1.0 ± 0.08 in the sham rats and 0.62 ± 0.15 in the SNL rats at 4 weeks post-operation.ConclusionsWe revealed new quantitative parameters in an SNL rat model that are directly relevant to the neurological symptoms in patients with neuropathic pain, in whom the von Frey and thermal withdrawal tests are not used at all clinically. This new 3D analysis system can contribute to the analysis of pain intensity of SNL rats in detail similar to human patients’ reactions following neuropathic pain.