Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) is a multifactorial disorder associated with an aberrant host response to tissue injury. About 25% of CRPS patients suffer poorly understood involuntary sustained muscle contractions associated with dysfunctional reflexes that result in abnormal postures (fixed dystonia). A recent modeling study simulated fixed dystonia (FD) caused by aberrant force feedback. The current study aims to validate this hypothesis by experimentally recording the modulation of reflexive force feedback in patients with FD. CRPS patients with and without FD, patients with FD but without CRPS, as well as healthy controls participated in the experiment. Three task instructions and three perturbation characteristics were used to evoke a wide range of responses to force perturbations. During position tasks (“maintain posture”), healthy subjects as well as patients resisted the perturbations, becoming more stiff than when being relaxed (i.e., the relax task). Healthy subjects and CRPS patients without FD were both more compliant during force tasks (“maintain force”) than during relax tasks, meaning they actively gave way to the imposed forces. Remarkably, the patients with FD failed to do so. A neuromuscular model was fitted to the experimental data to separate the distinct contributions of position, velocity and force feedback, as well as co-contraction to the motor behavior. The neuromuscular modeling indicated that inhibitory force feedback is deregulated in patients with FD, for both CRPS and non-CRPS patients. From previously published simulation results and the present experimental study, it is concluded that aberrant force feedback plays a role in fixed dystonia.
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