Not too long ago was I doing some research on chronic pain. I found that for both the 116 million Americans and for each doctor involved, receiving proper treatment and drugs can be a long and frustrating process. Chronic pain is becoming more and more problematic as it almost impossible to objectively measure. In an article that I found in New York Times, based off a research article, researchers went about treating chronic pain a little differently. Their hypothesis? What if pain was all in your head? The original article titled, Control over brain activation and pain learned by using real time functional MRI, tested to see whether chronic patients could learn to alleviate their pain using pain reduction techniques while also viewing the localized area of the brain that responds to pain, in real time.
Subjects with chronic pain were given the task to decrease already existing pain. All subjects were taught the same reduction or enhancement techniques (Attention, Stimulus quality, Stimulus severity, Control). All participants, except those in the control condition, were under the f.M.R.I. machine and were able to view a representation of their rostral anterior cingulated cortex (rACC), the area of the brain that activates in accordance to the awareness of pain. Healthy participants were asked, while presently viewing the representation of their own rACC region, to either increase their pain, or decrease pain by implementing learned techniques. Chronic patients, however, were asked to use the techniques solely for the purpose of reducing pain.
Chronic patients who applied reduction techniques reported an average decrease in pain by 64 percent. Healthy subjects also reported a significant difference in their ability to modulate pain, that being either increasing pain or decreasing pain. What was then the big take home message? Pain is a perception of the mind. By using f.M.R.I. and viewing one’s own rACC in motion, you can use strategies such as, positive imagining, distractions, and control techniques, to essentially manipulate how the brain perceives pain, and therefore alter the severity of one’s own physiological response.
Though this research provides positive results, what then happens to those patients who don’t have the financial means to undergo such procedures? Secondly, if the techniques only work for those under the machine then what happens in day to day life when the machine isn’t readily available?
Link to research article: www.pnas.org/content/102/51/18626.short
Link to New York Times article: www.nytimes.com/2006/05/14/magazine.14pain.htm