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Eur J Pain. 2011 Jan;15(1):17-22. doi: 10.1016/j.ejpain.2010.04.009. Epub 2010 Jun 8.

Pain and other symptoms of CRPS can be increased by ambiguous visual stimuli--an exploratory study.

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Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases, Upper Borough Walls, Bath, United Kingdom.



Visual disturbance, visuo-spatial difficulties, and exacerbations of pain associated with these, have been reported by some patients with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS).


We investigated the hypothesis that some visual stimuli (i.e. those which produce ambiguous perceptions) can induce pain and other somatic sensations in people with CRPS.


Thirty patients with CRPS, 33 with rheumatology conditions and 45 healthy controls viewed two images: a bistable spatial image and a control image. For each image participants recorded the frequency of percept change in 1 min and reported any changes in somatosensation.


73% of patients with CRPS reported increases in pain and/or sensory disturbances including changes in perception of the affected limb, temperature and weight changes and feelings of disorientation after viewing the bistable image. Additionally, 13% of the CRPS group responded with striking worsening of their symptoms which necessitated task cessation. Subjects in the control groups did not report pain increases or somatic sensations.


It is possible to worsen the pain suffered in CRPS, and to produce other somatic sensations, by means of a visual stimulus alone. This is a newly described finding. As a clinical and research tool, the experimental method provides a means to generate and exacerbate somaesthetic disturbances, including pain, without moving the affected limb and causing nociceptive interference. This may be particularly useful for brain imaging studies.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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