Chronic shoulder pain (CSP) is a common health problem associated with shoulder dysfunction and persistent pain for many different reasons. However, the studies of pain-related functional brain regions in CSP have been poorly investigated. The main purpose of our study was to observe whether there are abnormal functional changes in brain regions in patients with CSP by using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).
We compared the differences of brain regions between 37 patients with CSP and 24 healthy controls (HC) using regional homogeneity (ReHo) method. The patients with chronic shoulder pain and healthy controls were matched for age and gender. Brain regions which had abnormal ReHo values were defined as seed region of interests. The approach of seed-based functional connectivity (FC) was further performed to analyze the connectivity between the seeds and whole brain regions. The relationship between abnormal regions and current clinical pain was also evaluated.
Compared to healthy controls, the patients with CSP showed increased ReHo values in the left middle temporal gyrus and decreased ReHo values in right orbitofrontal cortex (OFC). The seed-based analyses demonstrated decreased connectivity between the right OFC and right rectus, superior frontal gyrus in patients with chronic shoulder pain. However, a correlation between ReHo values and clinical characteristics in CSP patients was not found.
The observed results indicate that there are abnormal ReHo values in brain regions of patients with CSP, especially in the OFC and middle temporal gyrus. Our findings demonstrate that the experience of CSP patients may be mainly associated with cognitive-affective pain processing, rather than nociception.