Scientists from Northwestern University in Chicago have made some fascinating progress in the study of chronic pain. While looking at how different people respond to similar injuries, they found that the emotional state of the brain actually determines a good deal of the pain that people experience.
As lead scientist Professor Vania Apakarian explained,
”The injury itself is not enough to explain the ongoing pain. It has to do with the injury combined with the state of the brain.”
What they found was that the more emotional the brain was when reacting to the initial injury, the more likely it was that the pain would persist. As Professor Apakarian clarified, ”It may be that these 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.”
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Of course, it’s not always easy to determine if the level of pain in different individuals is truly comparable. Looking at 40 volunteers, however, who all suffered back pain that lasted for one to four months, they took four brain scans on each patient during a one year period. Recently publishing their results in Nature Neuroscience, they explained that they could predict with 85% accuracy who would experience chronic pain and who wouldn’t.
With this knowledge base, they hope to “develop new therapies for treatment based on this finding.”