Chronic pain 'is all in the head'

9 July 2012

A person's susceptibility to chronic pain could well be all in their head, according to a new study which reveals that the brain plays a major role in the development of long-term physical discomfort.

Research carried out by experts at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and published in the journal Nature Neuroscience shows that chronic pain develops in lien with how the two sections of the brain - related to emotional and motivational behaviour – communicate with each other.

The more they communicate, the greater the chance a patient will develop chronic pain, according to the researchers, who say they can now predict which proportion of people with back or neck pain will go on to develop chronic pain with 85 per cent accuracy.

Study lead author A Vania Apkarian, senior author of the paper and professor of physiology at the facility, said experts can, for the first time, explain why people who may have the exact same initial pain either go on to recover or develop chronic pain.

It could be that the two sections of the brain are more excited to begin with in certain individuals, or there may be genetic and environmental influences that predispose these brain regions to interact at an excitable level, the expert said.

"The injury by itself is not enough to explain the ongoing pain. It has to do with the injury combined with the state of the brain. This finding is the culmination of 10 years of our research," he added.

 

Posted by Philip Briggs

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