CRPS Bugle 21st June

For some time studies have suggested that cortical reorganisation underpins certain features of complex regional pain syndrome. Also termed the body schema, this is in essence how we ‘feel’ ourselves and is constructed by the brain. However, the actual sense emerges from the physical body, the tissues despite the fact that the neural correlate is within the brain.

Many patients who come to the clinic with CRPS describe an altered sense of the affected area – detached, ‘not mine’, change in size perception

The study by Lorimer Moseley in 2004 outlined below looked at why those with complex regional pain syndrome tend to be slower at recognising the affected hand. This is a common finding when I assess a CRPS patient, an issue in body schema that requires addressing with a therapeutic training strategy.

Neurology. 2004 Jun 22;62(12):2182-6.

Why do people with complex regional pain syndrome take longer to recognize their affected hand?

Moseley GL.



People with complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) take longer to recognize the laterality of a pictured hand when it coincides with their affected hand. The author explored two aspects of this phenomenon: whether the duration of symptoms relates to the extent of the delay and whether guarding-type mechanisms are involved.


Eighteen patients with CRPS type 1 of the wrist and 18 matched control subjects performed a hand laterality recognition task. McGill pain questionnaire, Neuropathic Pain Scale, and response time (RT) to recognize hand laterality were analyzed. Regressions related 1) mean RT for patients to the duration of symptoms and to pain intensity; and 2) mean RT for each picture to the predicted pain on executing that movement as judged by the patient, and to the awkwardness of the movement that would be required.


For patients, the duration of symptoms correlated with mean RT (Spearman rho = 0.44; p = 0.02). Predicted pain rating explained 45% of the variance in RT for each picture for each patient (p < 0.01).


The results suggest that in patients with complex regional pain syndrome type 1, delayed recognition of hand laterality is related to the duration of symptoms and to the pain that would be evoked by executing the movement. The former is consistent with chronic pain and disuse and may involve reorganization of the cortical correlate of body schema. The latter is consistent with a guarding-type response that probably occurs upstream of the motor cortex at a motor planning level.


Neurosci Lett. 2010 Dec 17;486(3):240-5. doi: 10.1016/j.neulet.2010.09.062. Epub 2010 Sep 29.

Left is where the L is right. Significantly delayed reaction time in limb laterality recognition in both CRPS and phantom limb pain patients.

Reinersmann A, Haarmeyer GS, Blankenburg M, Frettlöh J, Krumova EK, Ocklenburg S, Maier C.


The body schema is based on an intact cortical body representation. Its disruption is indicated by delayed reaction times (RT) and high error rates when deciding on the laterality of a pictured hand in a limb laterality recognition task. Similarities in both cortical reorganisation and disrupted body schema have been found in two different unilateral pain syndromes, one with deafferentation (phantom limb pain, PLP) and one with pain-induced dysfunction (complex regional pain syndrome, CRPS). This study aims to compare the extent of impaired laterality recognition in these two groups. Performance on a test battery for attentional performance (TAP 2.0) and on a limb laterality recognition task was evaluated in CRPS (n=12), PLP (n=12) and healthy subjects (n=38). Differences between recognising affected and unaffected hands were analysed. CRPS patients and healthy subjects additionally completed a four-day training of limb laterality recognition. Reaction time was significantly delayed in both CRPS (2278±735.7ms) and PLP (2301.3±809.3ms) compared to healthy subjects (1826.5±517.0ms), despite normal TAP values in all groups. There were no differences between recognition of affected and unaffected hands in both patient groups. Both healthy subjects and CRPS patients improved during training, but RTs of CRPS patients (1874.5±613.3ms) remain slower (p<0.01) than those of healthy subjects (1280.6±343.2ms) after four-day training. Despite different pathomechanisms, the body schema is equally disrupted in PLP and CRPS patients, uninfluenced by attention and pain and cannot be fully reversed by training alone. This suggests the involvement of complex central nervous system mechanisms in the disruption of the body schema.


J Int Neuropsychol Soc. 2010 Jul;16(4):603-12. doi: 10.1017/S1355617710000299. Epub 2010 Apr 12.

Mental motor imagery and chronic pain: the foot laterality task.

Coslett HB, Medina J, Kliot D, Burkey A.


Several lines of evidence suggest that mental motor imagery is subserved by the same cognitive operations and brain structures that underlie action. Additionally, motor imagery is informed by the anticipated sensory consequences of action, including pain. We reasoned that motor imagery could provide a useful measure of chronic leg or foot pain. Forty subjects with leg pain (19 bilateral, 11 right, and 10 left leg pain), 42 subjects with chronic pain not involving the legs, and 38 controls were shown 12 different line drawings of the right or left foot and asked to indicate which foot was depicted. Previous work suggests that subjects perform this task by mentally rotating their foot to match the visually presented stimulus. All groups of subjects were slower and less accurate with stimuli that required a greater degree of mental rotation of their foot. Subjects with leg pain were both slower and less accurate than normal and pain control subjects in responding to drawings of a painful extremity. Furthermore, subjects with leg pain exhibited a significantly greater decrement in performance for stimuli that required larger amplitude mental rotations. These data suggest that motor imagery may provide important insights into the nature of the pain experience.


Eur J Pain. 2010 Nov;14(10):1007-13. Full article here

Mental motor imagery indexes pain: the hand laterality task.

Coslett HB, Medina J, Kliot D, Burkey AR.


Mental motor imagery is subserved by the same cognitive systems that underlie action. In turn, action is informed by the anticipated sensory consequences of movement, including pain. In light of these considerations, one would predict that motor imagery would provide a useful measure pain-related functional interference. We report a study in which 19 patients with chronic musculoskeletal or radiculopathic arm or shoulder pain, 24 subjects with chronic pain not involving the arm/shoulder and 41 normal controls were asked to indicate if a line drawing was a right or left hand. Previous work demonstrated that this task is performed by mental rotation of the subject’s hand to match the stimulus. Relative to normal and pain control subjects, arm/shoulder pain subjects were significantly slower for stimuli that required greater amplitude rotations. For the arm/shoulder pain subjects only there was a correlation between degree of slowing and the rating of severity of pain with movement but not the non-specific pain rating. The hand laterality task may supplement the assessment of subjects with chronic arm/shoulder pain.


Brain Res. 2010 Oct 8;1355:104-11. Full article here

Contributions of efference copy to limb localization: evidence from deafferentation.

Medina J, Jax SA, Brown MJ, Coslett HB.


CRPS BuglePrevious research with deafferented subjects suggests that efference copy can be used to update limb position. However, the contributions of efference copy to limb localization are currently unclear. We examined the performance of JDY, a woman with severe, longstanding proprioceptive deficits from a sensory peripheral neuropathy, on a reaching task to explore the contribution of efference copy to trajectory control. JDY and eight healthy controls reached without visual feedback to a target that either remained stationary or jumped to a second location after movement initiation. JDY consistently made hypermetric movements to the final target, exhibiting significant problems with amplitude control. Despite this amplitude control deficit, JDY’s performance on jump trials showed that the angle of movement correction (angle between pre- and post-correction movement segments) was significantly correlated with the distance (but not time) of movement from start to turn point. These data suggest that despite an absence of proprioceptive and visual information regarding hand location, JDY derived information about movement distance that informed her movement correction on jump trials. The same type of information that permitted her to correct movement direction on-line, however, was not available for control of final arm position. We propose that efference copy can provide a consistent estimate of limb position that becomes less informative over the course of the movement. We discuss the implications of these data for current models of motor control.

Visit our main site here: Specialist Pain Physio Clinics for information about our neuroscience based treatment programmes for CRPS


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