Role of functional brain imaging in understanding rheumatic pain

Curr Rheumatol Rep. 2012 Dec;14(6):557-67. doi: 10.1007/s11926-012-0287-x.


Rheumatic pain and, in particular, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia, are common and debilitating chronic pain syndromes. Recently, human functional neuroimaging, for example EEG, fMRI, and PET has begun to reveal some of the crucial central nervous system mechanisms underlying these diseases. The purpose of this review is to summarise current knowledge on the brain mechanisms of rheumatic pain revealed by functional neuroimaging techniques. The evidence suggests that two mechanisms may be largely responsible for the clinical pain associated with these rheumatic diseases: abnormalities in the medial pain system and/or central nervous system sensitisation and inhibition. If we can understand how functioning of the central nociceptive system becomes altered, even in the absence of peripheral nociceptive input, by using functional neuroimaging techniques, in the future we may be able to develop improved, more effective treatments for patients with chronic rheumatic pain.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Central Nervous System Sensitization
  • Chronic Pain / etiology
  • Chronic Pain / physiopathology*
  • Electroencephalography
  • Functional Neuroimaging
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Positron-Emission Tomography
  • Rheumatic Diseases / complications
  • Rheumatic Diseases / physiopathology*