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Pain. 2007 Dec 15;133(1-3):111-9. Epub 2007 May 16.

Body perception disturbance: a contribution to pain in complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS).

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  • 1The Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases NHS Foundation Trust, Bath, UK. Jenny.lewis@rnhrd-tr.swest.nhs.uk


In spite of pain in the CRPS limb, clinical observations show patients pay little attention to, and fail to care for, their affected limb as if it were not part of their body. Literature describes this phenomenon in terms of neurological neglect-like symptoms. This qualitative study sought to explore the nature of the phenomenon with a view to providing insights into central mechanisms and the relationship with pain. Twenty-seven participants who met the IASP CRPS classification were interviewed using qualitative methods to explore feelings and perceptions about their affected body parts. These semi-structured interviews were analysed utilising principles of grounded theory. Participants revealed bizarre perceptions about a part of their body and expressed a desperate desire to amputate this part despite the prospect of further pain and functional loss. A mismatch was experienced between the sensation of the limb and how it looked. Anatomical parts of the CRPS limb were erased in mental representations of the affected area. Pain generated a raised consciousness of the limb yet there was a lack of awareness as to its position. These feelings were about the CRPS limb only as the remaining unaffected body was felt to be normal. Findings suggest that there is a complex interaction between pain, disturbances in body perception and central remapping. Clinically, findings support the use of treatments that target cortical areas, which may reduce body perception disturbance and pain. We propose that body perception disturbance is a more appropriate term than 'neglect-like' symptoms to describe this phenomenon.

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