Nearly 50 million American adults suffer from chronic pain, according to a 2018 report from the CDC. For some, there is a clear cause for their pain, whether it’s ongoing illnesses like arthritis or disorders like fibromyalgia. But for others, there are no physical roots – their chronic pain is the result of trauma.
For years, scientists and clinicians have observed that chronic pain and trauma tend to go hand in hand. It has never been clear why – pain is a subjective experience that varies from person to person, making it difficult to pin down the exact mechanisms in the brain. But now, scientists may have an answer.
In a new study published Tuesday in the journal, Frontiers in pain researchIn California, researchers have discovered three different types of brain patterns that may explain why some people are more or less susceptible to chronic trauma-related pain. These findings, based on new MRI studies of military veterans, counteract the one-size-fits-all treatment approach, and instead pave the way for more treatments tailored to individual patients.
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The new findings are part of an ongoing field of research trying to answer why humans feel pain and how our brains convert certain stimuli into a sense of pain. Most pain has a very specific point of origin, such as heat, pressure, or inflammation.
The amount of pain you feel is usually directly related to the amount of injury you sustain, such as a burning or scratching, Irina Strigo, a neurophysiologist at the University of California, San Francisco and the study’s lead researcher, told The Daily Beast. “But when the pain becomes chronic, often these signals are not correlated. For example, if your back is sprained, your back is healing. There is no longer inflammation, but the pain is lingering.”
Strego explained that mental trauma is often the cause of this pain. Among some patients such as veterans, chronic pain rarely goes away on its own and is diagnosed along with other conditions such as PTSD, depression, or other anxiety disorders. While scientists knew that psychological trauma can exacerbate and intensify a person’s sense of pain, most studies have relied on subjective questionnaires rather than objective measurements that look at how the brain views trauma and chronic pain on an individual level.
To conclude, Strigo and her team scanned the brains of 57 US veterans with chronic back pain. Using functional MRI technology, the researchers looked at areas of the brain responsible for processing pain and trauma, specifically nerve pathways that were receiving a lot of blood flow, indicating that they were active or active more often. To ensure objectivity, the researchers sent the images they took to a computer, which allowed it to determine how individuals were stratified based on brain activity rather than a person’s feeling of pain.
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What the computer found is that there are three sets of brain activity that correlate with the severity of veterans’ symptoms. The group with a “low” rating of symptoms showed the best brain connections that made them less vulnerable and possibly more emotionally resilient in the face of trauma and chronic pain. The ‘high’ symptom group was the most susceptible and weak brain activity, putting them at greater risk of developing chronic pain when exposed to trauma.
The group with moderate symptoms was more difficult to detect. “If we judge [the middle group] Depending on the symptoms, they wouldn’t differ from the lower symptom group because their symptoms were nearly as low as the somewhat healthier group,” Strygo said. He. She [seems] To indicate that they are trying to detach from their symptoms.”
While these findings are based on a small group of individuals, Strigo plans to see if the results hold for people with other types of chronic pain such as knee pain or phantom limb pain. She hopes her team’s research will provide a framework for understanding pain as the presence of distinct nerve signals that could help clinicians prescribe more specific types of pain relievers, treat patients with more elaborate forms of physical therapy, or even suggest mindfulness or cognitive behavioral therapy in addition to conventional therapies.
“I think the brain is very important for understanding pain because pain is an experience that the brain creates,” Strygo said. “We have come a long way now in our understanding of pain and the brain’s contribution. We just need to understand it more, and then everyone can be helped.”
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