About 69% of the 299,000 Americans living with spinal cord injury (SCI) experience long-term debilitating neuropathic pain. New treatments are needed because current treatments do not provide enough pain relief. We have found that insular-opercular brain network alterations may contribute to neuropathic pain and that restoring this network could reduce neuropathic pain. Here, we outline a study protocol using a physical therapy approach, cognitive multisensory rehabilitation (CMR), which has been shown to restore OP1/OP4 connections in adults post stroke, to test our hypothesis that CMR can normalize pain perception through restoring OP1/OP4 connectivity in adults with SCI and relieve neuropathic pain.
To compare baseline brain function via resting-state and task-based functional magnetic resonance imaging in adults with SCI versus uninjured controls, and to identify changes in brain function and behavioral pain outcomes after CMR in adults with SCI.
In this phase I randomized controlled trial, adults with SCI will be randomized into two groups: Group A will receive 6 weeks of CMR followed by 6 weeks of standard of care (no therapy) at home. Group B will start with 6 weeks of standard of care (no therapy) at home and then receive 6 weeks of CMR. Neuroimaging and behavioral measures are collected at baseline, after the first 6 weeks (A: post therapy, B: post waitlist), and after the second 6 weeks (A: post-therapy follow-up, B: post therapy), with follow-up of both groups up to 12 months.
The successful outcome of our study will be a critical next step toward implementing CMR in clinical care to improve health in adults with SCI.