It’s All in Your Head

Fotolia 39246842 XS resized 600Most of us have likely heard that statement uttered at some time in our lives (or said it ourselves). Well, researchers have now found that there is something to that.

Northwestern Medicine conducted a study to find out why some people end up with chronic pain from their injuries and others with similar injuries recover and live pain free. What they found was quite interesting.

Researchers studied participants with a new back injury, using longitudinal brain imaging. They were able to show that chronic pain is more likely to develop in people where two parts of their brain – the areas which relate to emotional and motivational behavior – communicate with each other more often. The researchers were able to predict with 85 percent accuracy at the outset of the study which patients would be most likely to develop chronic pain, simply by observing the level of interaction between their frontal cortex and their nucleus accumbens.

They found that the injury alone was not enough to explain the state of chronic (ongoing) pain. They learned that the pain had to do with the injury in combination with the state of the brain. The more emotionally the brain reacts to the initial injury, the more likely someone is to experience chronic pain after the injury has healed. They did not find out what caused the frontal cortex and nucleus accumbens to interact in a more excited state in certain individuals, but they do know that the nucleus accumbens plays an important role in teaching the rest of the brain how to evaluate and react to the outside world, and may use the pain signal to communicate to the rest of the brain to develop chronic pain.

Chronic pain affects 30 to 40 million adults in the United States, and according to a 2011 National Academy of Sciences report, costs an estimated $600 billion per year, and back pain is the most prevalent chronic pain condition.

With the findings from this study, researchers are hopeful that they will be able to develop new treatment therapies which are more effective at resolving the chronic pain condition.

To read the full story, click here.

Photo credit: © evgenyatamanenko – Fotolia.com

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