People who are plagued with chronic pain dream of a day they can move pain-free. Often doctors are not able to pinpoint the source of the pain, so they prescribe medications to help alleviate the symptoms. Some medications give them a little relief, but often the medications have more side effects than relieve.
Chronic pain differs from acute pain, which is usually from a sudden injury and lasts only as long as the wound or injury is healing. Chronic pain continues on for a long period of time, usually at least six months.
Very often, after a battery of tests and no answers, doctors dismiss the pain as â€œfantasy painâ€ and believe itâ€™s in the head. Recently, however, scientists have been able to use brain imaging to determine more accurately whatâ€™s going on in the brain. After all, unless the brain tells the body there is pain it wonâ€™t let you know. For instance, if you cut your finger signals through the spinal cord about the injury, which in turn passes the information on to the thalamus, which forwards the message to areas of the brain that deal with pain and emotion. When the pain stops the signals stop. If there is an interruption in signaling between the point of the pain and the part of the brain that received the signal there is pain, the message is not received.
Pain has to be centered in the brain, and scientists now believe it is the result of a wiring problem in the brain, so instead of processing pain only in the area that deals with that feeling or sensation, other areas of the brain also show up with activity on brain scans.
Physical pain is only worsened when emotions and memory are added to the mix, and the sensations go directly to the memory bank. When this occurs over and over again, the brain becomes â€œhypersensitive to pain.â€
Pain is psychosocial, which means it involves the emotional and response areas of the brain. It’s possible that doctors may be able to retrain the brain to block out the signals as the pain begins so that a person remains calm and collected.
Over-the-counter pain relievers, like aspirin, ibuprofen and acetaminophen can ease the pain somewhat by reducing the chemicals that our bodies use to sense injury. They are not effective on a daily basis, as the body tends to get adjusted to them and it reduces the effect. Also, they are only good for less severe headaches or muscle aches. Stronger injuries demand heavier blockers.
An interesting turn can also show improvement in symptoms, called the â€œplacebo effect.â€ You wouldnâ€™t think substituting pain relievers for simple sugar pills would fool your brain, but it has proven effective in some very interesting surroundings. Once example occurred during World War II. Army medic, Dr. Harry Beecher ran out of pain-killing morphine. He couldnâ€™t allow the soldiers to know the supply was depleted, and he had no alternative medication to give them, so he continued to treat them using plain saline solution in their intravenous bags (IVâ€™s) and told them it was morphine. Amazingly, about 40% of the soldiers reported an easing in their pain. The brain was tricked into believing they were getting pain-relieving medicine.
Later studies have shown that a large percentage of people will believe they are taking medication that is effective when they are actually receiving placebos. On the other hand, patients who have been told their medications have stopped, when in fact it hadnâ€™t, actually felt more pain. The brain seems to be able to control our pain levels.
Research has shown that connections between pain and emotion are especially in some peopleâ€™s brains, and they can experience pain more intensely than others, even when there is no stimulus. They also know that emotion has something to do with how we feel. When we are depressed we feel pain more intensely, and experience negative memory that lead to our bodyâ€™s sensitivity to harmful stimuli. On the other hand, positive thinking lessens the pain.
This is Ron White, two-time USA Memory Champion. This is interesting in that our brains have more control over our bodies and emotions that we think about. Everything that goes on in our body runs through the brain, including our ability to experience pain. It is hopeful then, that doctors can find a way â€“ with all this modern technology, to find relief for those who experience chronic pain.
Discovery Channel â€“ Curiosity.com â€“ Is Chronic Pain all in your head? http://curiosity.discovery.com/question/how-brain-process-pain
American Chronic Care Association – http://www.theacpa.org/default.aspx