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Fixed Dystonia in Complex Regional Pain Syndrome: a Descriptive and Computational Modeling Approach

Alexander G Munts1, Winfred Mugge2, Thomas S Meurs1, Alfred C Schouten2, Johan Marinus1, G Lorimer Moseley3, Frans CT van der Helm2 and Jacobus J van Hilten1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Neurology, Leiden University Medical Center, Leiden, The Netherlands

2 Department of Biomechanical Engineering, Delft University of Technology, The Netherlands

3 Prince of Wales Medical Research Institute & University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia

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BMC Neurology 2011, 11:53  doi:10.1186/1471-2377-11-53

Published: 24 May 2011



Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) may occur after trauma, usually to one limb, and is characterized by pain and disturbed blood flow, temperature regulation and motor control. Approximately 25% of cases develop fixed dystonia. Involvement of dysfunctional GABAergic interneurons has been suggested, however the mechanisms that underpin fixed dystonia are still unknown. We hypothesized that dystonia could be the result of aberrant proprioceptive reflex strengths of position, velocity or force feedback.


We systematically characterized the pattern of dystonia in 85 CRPS-patients with dystonia according to the posture held at each joint of the affected limb. We compared the patterns with a neuromuscular computer model simulating aberrations of proprioceptive reflexes. The computer model consists of an antagonistic muscle pair with explicit contributions of the musculotendinous system and reflex pathways originating from muscle spindles and Golgi tendon organs, with time delays reflective of neural latencies. Three scenarios were simulated with the model: (i) increased reflex sensitivity (increased sensitivity of the agonistic and antagonistic reflex loops); (ii) imbalanced reflex sensitivity (increased sensitivity of the agonistic reflex loop); (iii) imbalanced reflex offset (an offset to the reflex output of the agonistic proprioceptors).


For the arm, fixed postures were present in 123 arms of 77 patients. The dominant pattern involved flexion of the fingers (116/123), the wrists (41/123) and elbows (38/123). For the leg, fixed postures were present in 114 legs of 77 patients. The dominant pattern was plantar flexion of the toes (55/114 legs), plantar flexion and inversion of the ankle (73/114) and flexion of the knee (55/114).

Only the computer simulations of imbalanced reflex sensitivity to muscle force from Golgi tendon organs caused patterns that closely resembled the observed patient characteristics. In parallel experiments using robot manipulators we have shown that patients with dystonia were less able to adapt their force feedback strength.


Findings derived from a neuromuscular model suggest that aberrant force feedback regulation from Golgi tendon organs involving an inhibitory interneuron may underpin the typical fixed flexion postures in CRPS patients with dystonia.