Primary sensorimotor cortex is modified by a 6 week graded motor imagery training in chronic CRPS patients: a randomized trial.

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Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) is a neuropathic pain condition that is difficult to treat. For behavioral interventions, graded motor imagery (GMI) showed relevant effects, but underlying neural substrates in patient groups have not been investigated yet. A previous study investigating differences in the representation of a left/right hand judgment task demonstrated less recruitment of subcortical structures, such as the putamen, in CRPS patients than in healthy controls. In healthy volunteers, the putamen activity increased after a hand judgment task training. In order to test for longitudinal effects of GMI training, we investigated 20 CRPS patients in a wait-list crossover design with 3 evaluation time points. Patients underwent a 6 week GMI treatment and a 6 week waiting period in a randomized group assignment and treatment groups were evaluated by a blinded rater. When compared to healthy matched controls at baseline, CRPS patients showed less functional activation in areas processing visual input, left sensorimotor cortex, and right putamen. Only GMI treatment, but not the waiting period showed an effect on movement pain, hand judgment task performance. Regression analyses revealed positive associations of movement pain with left anterior insula activation at baseline. Right intraparietal sulcus activation change during GMI was associated with a gain in performance of the hand judgment task. The design used here is reliable for investigating the functional representation of the hand judgment task in an intervention study. PERSPECTIVE: 20 chronic CRPS patients underwent a 6 week graded motor imagery (GMI) intervention in a randomized wait-list crossover design. fMRI was tested pre and post for the hand lateralization task which improved over GMI but not over WAITING. Performance gain was positively related to right parietal fMRI activation.

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