Author(s): Flor H
Recent neuroscientific evidence has revealed that the adult brain is capable of substantial plastic change in areas such as the primary somatosensory cortex that were formerly thought to be modifiable only during early experience. We discuss research on phantom limb pain as well as chronic back pain that revealed functional reorganization in both the somatosensory and the motor system in these chronic pain states. In phantom limb pain patients, cortical reorganization is correlated with the amount of phantom limb pain; in low back pain patients the amount of reorganizational change increases with chronicity. We present a model of the development of chronic pain that assumes an important role of somatosensory pain memories. In phantom limb pain, we propose that those patients who experienced intense pain prior to the amputation will later likely develop enhanced cortical reorganization and phantom limb pain. We show that cortical plasticity related to chronic pain can be reduced by behavioral interventions that provide feedback to the brain areas that were altered by somatosensory pain memories.