Cortical reorganisation and chronic pain: implications for rehabilitation

J Rehabil Med. 2003 May;(41 Suppl):66-72. doi: 10.1080/16501960310010179.


Recent neuroscientific evidence has revealed that the adult brain is capable of substantial plastic change in such areas as the primary somatosensory cortex that were formerly thought to be modifiable only during early experience. These findings have implications for our understanding of chronic pain. Functional reorganisation in both the somatosensory and the motor system was observed in neuropathic and musculoskeletal pain. In patients with chronic low back pain and fibromyalgia the amount of reorganisational change increases with chronicity; in phantom limb pain and other neuropathic pain syndromes cortical reorganisation is correlated with the amount of pain. These central alterations may be viewed as pain memories that influence the processing of both painful and nonpainful input to the somatosensory system as well as its effects on the motor system. Cortical plasticity related to chronic pain can be modified by behavioural interventions that provide feedback to the brain areas that were altered by somatosensory pain memories or by pharmacological agents that prevent or reverse maladaptive memory formation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Back Pain / physiopathology
  • Back Pain / therapy
  • Biofeedback, Psychology*
  • Chronic Disease
  • Excitatory Amino Acid Antagonists / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Memantine / therapeutic use
  • Memory
  • Motor Cortex / physiopathology*
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases / physiopathology
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases / rehabilitation*
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Phantom Limb / physiopathology
  • Phantom Limb / therapy
  • Somatosensory Cortex / physiopathology*


  • Excitatory Amino Acid Antagonists
  • Memantine