Characterising sensorimotor adaptation in Complex Regional Pain Syndrome

Axel D. Vittersø, Gavin Buckingham, Antonia F. Ten Brink, Monika Halicka, Michael J. Proulx, Janet H. Bultitude

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It has been suggested that sensorimotor conflict contributes to the maintenance of some pathological pain conditions, implying that there are problems with the adaptation processes that normally resolve such conflict. We tested whether sensorimotor adaptation is impaired in people with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) by characterising their adaption to lateral prismatic shifts in vision. People with unilateral upper-limb CRPS Type I (n = 17), and pain-free individuals (n = 18; matched for age, sex, and handedness) completed prism adaptation with their affected/non-dominant and non-affected/dominant arms. We examined 1) the rate at which participants compensated for the optical shift during prism exposure (i.e., strategic recalibration), 2) endpoint errors made directly after prism adaptation (sensorimotor realignment) and the retention of these errors, and 3) kinematic markers associated with strategic control. Direct comparisons between people with CRPS and controls revealed no evidence of any differences in strategic recalibration, including no evidence for differences in a kinematic marker associated with trial-by-trial changes in movement plans during prism exposure. All participants made significant endpoint errors after prism adaptation exposure, indicative of sensorimotor realignment. Overall, the magnitude of this realignment did not differ between people with CRPS and pain-free controls. However, when endpoint errors were considered separately for each hand, people with CRPS made greater errors (indicating more rather than less realignment) when using their affected hand than their non-affected hand. No such difference was seen in controls. Taken together, these findings provide no evidence of impaired strategic control or sensorimotor realignment in people with CRPS. In contrast, they provide some indication that there could be a greater propensity for sensorimotor realignment in the CRPS-affected arm, consistent with more flexible representations of the body and peripersonal space. Our study challenges an implicit assumption of the theory that sensorimotor conflict might underlie some pathological pain conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)157-178
Number of pages22
Early online date22 Apr 2021
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jul 2021


  • Chronic pain
  • Complex Regional Pain Syndrome
  • CRPS
  • Prism adaptation
  • Sensorimotor adaptation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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