Spatially defined modulation of skin temperature and hand ownership of both hands in patients with unilateral complex regional pain syndrome


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Abstract

Numerous clinical conditions, including complex regional pain syndrome, are characterized by autonomic dysfunctions (e.g. altered thermoregulation, sometimes confined to a single limb), and disrupted cortical representation of the body and the surrounding space. The presence, in patients with complex regional pain syndrome, of a disruption in spatial perception, bodily ownership and thermoregulation led us to hypothesize that impaired spatial perception might result in a spatial-dependent modulation of thermoregulation and bodily ownership over the affected limb. In five experiments involving a total of 23 patients with complex regional pain syndrome of one arm and 10 healthy control subjects, we measured skin temperature of the hand with infrared thermal imaging, before and after experimental periods of either 9 or 10 min each, during which the hand was held on one or the other side of the body midline. Tactile processing was assessed by temporal order judgements of pairs of vibrotactile stimuli, delivered one to each hand. Pain and sense of ownership over the hand were assessed by self-report scales. Across experiments, when kept on its usual side of the body midline, the affected hand was 0.5 ± 0.3°C cooler than the healthy hand (P < 0.02 for all, a common finding in cold-type complex regional pain syndrome), and tactile stimuli delivered to the healthy hand were prioritized over those delivered to the affected hand. Simply crossing both hands over the midline resulted in (i) warming of the affected hand (the affected hand became 0.4 ± 0.3°C warmer than when it was in the uncrossed position; P = 0.01); (ii) cooling of the healthy hand (by 0.3 ± 0.3°C; P = 0.02); and (iii) reversal of the prioritization of tactile processing. When only the affected hand was crossed over the midline, it became warmer (by 0.5 ± 0.3°C; P = 0.01). When only the healthy hand was crossed over the midline, it became cooler (by 0.3 ± 0.3°C; P = 0.01). The temperature change of either hand was positively related to its distance from the body midline (pooled data: r = 0.76, P < 0.001). Crossing the affected hand over the body midline had small but significant effects on both spontaneous pain (which was reduced) and the sense of ownership over the hand (which was increased) (P < 0.04 for both). We conclude that impaired spatial perception modulated temperature of the limbs, tactile processing, spontaneous pain and the sense of ownership over the hands. These results show that complex regional pain syndrome involves more complex neurological dysfunction than has previously been considered.

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