The issues experienced by CRPS sufferers in mentally visualising, moving and feeling an affected limb, which is often referred to as ‘attention bias’, are very similar to those experienced by people with a condition known as hemispatial neglect. The latter is a disabling condition which commonly occurs following an injury to the brain. As a result of damage to one of the hemispheres of their brain, the person has a reduced attention to and awareness of one side of their field of vision.
According to a recently published paper in the neurological journal, Brain, the similarities between the two conditions has led researchers to consider whether these similarities may provide new insights into the treatment and rehabilitation of CRPS.
Of particular interest was whether this problem in CRPS occurs only when a person’s brain processes information about the affected side of their body, or whether it applies to their more general visual processing on that side. The studies in fact suggest that people with CRPS seem to suffer both problems separately but concurrently. In other words, on the affected side of their body they may simultaneously have lower awareness of their limbs and lower awareness of external space more generally.
The same separate but interacting problems have been found in people who have suffered hemispatial neglect following a stroke, and a variety of different techniques are used to treat the problem. These techniques centre largely on gradually bringing a patient’s attention back towards the affected side.
Although considerable more research is required in order to better understand these problems in CRPS, researchers are hoping that the same treatment techniques as used for stroke patients may benefit those with CRPS.