A great summary article was published recently about CRPS, a pain condition with symptoms of:
- burning pain
- sensitivity to touch
- pain in response to non-painful stimuli
- weakness, tremor and muscle spasms
- changes in temperature and increased sweating
If pain is felt in your body, why is it thought to be a problem in your brain?
In CRPS (and very possibly other pain conditions), changes occur in your brain to cause your “body map” to become distorted. What does this mean? In your brain, there’s a representation of your body. Places that are sensitive – for example, your fingers – have a big representation. Places that aren’t sensitive – let’s say, your back – have a small representation. In CRPS, this “body map” becomes distorted in the areas of pain. It also seems that the more distorted your body map becomes, the more pain you experience.
This distorted body map is responsible for symptoms such as:
- errors in noticing where you’re being touched
- errors in how big your body parts feels
- errors in movement
- touch in 1 area causing feelings in another
What this new understanding of pain provides for us is good news. Because we now better know where the problem is, so we’ve developed new treatments for CRPS. Mirror therapy and motor imagery programs are 2 such treatments. These seem to work by reversing the changes that occur in your brain in CRPS.
The original article is in press in The European Journal of Pain, titled Cortical Changes in Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), by Swart, Stins, and Beek.