Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) is typically described as a peripheral nerve disorder in which exaggerated allodynia and hyperalgesia follow a minor injury. Some researchers propose a central mechanism, although current evidence is lacking.
A 14-year-old female presented with classic CRPS symptoms of left upper-extremity weakness and hyperalgesia after a bout of sharp pain in her thumb while shoveling snow. A possible seizure prompted magnetic resonance imaging, revealing a right frontal Spetzler-Martin grade II arteriovenous malformation (AVM) adjacent to the primary motor cortex. Brodmann areas 1, 3a, and 3b, which are responsible for localizing and processing burning and painful sensations, were also involved. The patient underwent transarterial Onyx embolization in two sessions and microsurgical resection, after which her CRPS symptoms completely resolved.
To our knowledge, this is the first reported case of a cerebral AVM presenting as CRPS, which supports a central mechanism. The authors propose that rapid growth of the AVM led to a vascular steal phenomenon of surrounding parenchyma, which disrupted the patient’s normal motor function and nociceptive processing. Further validation in other series is needed.