CRPS, Pain and Brain Research update November Part 1

Welcome to the first November research update.

Specialist Pain Physio Clinics, London

J Pain 2011 Oct 25. [Epub ahead of print]

Pain-Related Fear, Perceived Harmfulness of Activities, and Functional Limitations in Complex Regional Pain Syndrome Type I.


Department of Rehabilitation, University Hospital Maastricht, Maastricht, The Netherlands; Department Clinical Psychological Science, Maastricht University, Maastricht, The Netherlands.


Numerous studies have shown that pain-related fear is one of the strongest predictors of pain disability in patients with chronic musculoskeletal pain, and there is evidence that the reduction of pain-related fear through an exposure treatment can be associated with restoration of functional abilities in patients with complex regional pain syndrome type I (CRPS-I). These findings suggest that pain-related fear may be associated with functional limitations in neuropathic pain as well. The aim of the current study was to test whether the debilitating role of pain-related fear generalizes to patients with CRPS-I. The results of 2 studies are presented. Study I includes a sample of patients with early CRPS-I referred to an outpatient pain clinic. In Study II, patients with chronic CRPS who are members of a patients’ association were invited to participate. The results show that in early CRPS-I, pain severity but not fear of movement/(re)injury as measured with the Tampa Scale for Kinesiophobia was related to functional limitations. In patients with chronic CRPS-I, however, perceived harmfulness of activities as measured with the pictorial assessment method significantly predicted functional limitations beyond and above the contribution of pain severity. Not fear of movement/(re)injury in general, but the perceived harmfulness of activities appears a key factor that might be addressed more systematically in the clinical assessment of patients with CRPS-I. These results support the idea that pain-related fear might be a promising concept in the understanding of pain disability in patients with neuropathic pain. PERSPECTIVE: This is the first study showing that perceived harmfulness of activities contribute to the functional limitations in CRPS-I. The current findings may help clinicians customizing cognitive-behavioral treatments for patients with chronic neuropathic pain.


Clin J Pain. 2011 Oct 13. [Epub ahead of print]

Effect of Immunomodulating Medications in Complex Regional Pain Syndrome: A Systematic Review.


Erasmus MC, Rotterdam, The Netherlands.



Different mechanisms are involved in a complex network of interactions resulting in the painful and impairing disorder, complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS). There is convincing evidence that inflammation plays a pivotal role in the pathophysiology of CRPS. Immunomodulating medication reduces the manifestation of inflammation by acting on the mediators of inflammation. Therefore, as inflammation is involved in the pathophysiology of CRPS, immunomodulating medication in CRPS patients may prove beneficial.


To describe the current empirical evidence for the efficacy of administering the most commonly used immunomodulating medication (ie, glucocorticoids, tumor necrosis factor-α antagonists, thalidomide, bisphosphonates, and immunoglobulins) in CRPS patients.


PubMed was searched for original articles that investigated CRPS and the use of one of the abovementioned immunomodulating agents.


The search yielded 39 relevant articles: from these, information on study design, sample size, duration of disease, type and route of medication, primary outcome measures, and results was examined.


Theoretically, the use of immunomodulating medication could counteract the ongoing inflammation and might be an important step in improving a disabled hand or foot, leading to further recovery. However, more high-quality intervention studies are needed.


PLoS One. 2011;6(10):e26010. Epub 2011 Oct 13. Click here for article

Brain morphological signatures for chronic pain.


Department of Physiology, Northwestern University, Chicago, Illinois, United States of America.


Chronic pain can be understood not only as an altered functional state, but also as a consequence of neuronal plasticity. Here we use in vivo structural MRI to compare global, local, and architectural changes in gray matter properties in patients suffering from chronic back pain (CBP), complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) and knee osteoarthritis (OA), relative to healthy controls. We find that different chronic pain types exhibit unique anatomical ‘brain signatures’. Only the CBP group showed altered whole-brain gray matter volume, while regional gray matter density was distinct for each group. Voxel-wise comparison of gray matter density showed that the impact on the extent of chronicity of pain was localized to a common set of regions across all conditions. When gray matter density was examined for large regions approximating Brodmann areas, it exhibited unique large-scale distributed networks for each group. We derived a barcode, summarized by a single index of within-subject co-variation of gray matter density, which enabled classification of individual brains to their conditions with high accuracy. This index also enabled calculating time constants and asymptotic amplitudes for an exponential increase in brain re-organization with pain chronicity, and showed that brain reorganization with pain chronicity was 6 times slower and twice as large in CBP in comparison to CRPS. The results show an exuberance of brain anatomical reorganization peculiar to each condition and as such reflecting the unique maladaptive physiology of different types of chronic pain.


4 thoughts on “CRPS, Pain and Brain Research update November Part 1

  1. And the relationship with abnormal impulse generating sites(AIGS)? Creation of AIGS and their relationship to CRPS and the reinforcing effects of the HPA respnse and the resulting cortisol production? Many things to ponder.

  2. Thanks for your comment Bj. You have hit upon two important aspects. AIGS as a feature of neural plastic change that underpins neuropathic pain and in particular the spontaneous pain. The HPA axis and release of cortisol as part of the physiological stress response is also an importnat consideration in any persisting pain state where the pain itself and the effects upon the individual are stressful. The stress response is excellent and vital in acute situations, however an on-going response is problematic and affects all body systems.

  3. I am a relative beginner with some of these concepts and my imagination puts things together before I get to logically think them through sometimes. The findings in this study seem credible from my experience working with patients in great pain for the last 18 years. I am excited about future findings and the dots that will be connected. I enjoy reading this blog. So glad I stumbled upon you.
    BJ Erkan – Bothell Integrated Health

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