U.S. researchers reported on Tuesday that they found on brain scans of people with chronic pain that their brains show a state of constant activity in areas that should be at rest. Researchers say that this could explain why these patients have higher rates of depression, anxiety and other disorders. Researchers state that the disruptions in the brain could explain why these patients have trouble with sleep disturbances and attention also.
The researchers wrote in the Journal of Neuroscience:
It seems that enduring pain for a long time affects brain function in response to even minimally demanding attention tasks completely unrelated to pain.
Dante Chialvo, a researcher at Northwestern University in Chicago who worked on the study, said:
People with chronic pain – meaning pain that lasts more than six months after their injury – have many other issues that affect their quality of life as much as pain. It is not known where they come from.
Researchers are saying that a front region of the cortex that is mostly associated with emotion is constantly active and this disrupts the normal equillibrium.
The brain scan was done on 15 people with chronic back pain and 15 healthy people. Each volunteer had an easy attention task to do: they were instructed to track a moving bar on a screen. This way the researchers could observe the brain shifting out of default mode to do the task. They said that both groups performed well, but the differences showed when they measured the activated areas of the brain.
They continued to comment:
“Where we were surprised is the difference in how much brain they used to do the task compared with the healthy group. It was 50 times larger. These findings suggest that the brain of a chronic pain patient is not simply a healthy brain processing pain information but rather it is altered by the persistent pain in a manner reminiscent of other neurological conditions associated with cognitive impairments.”
So pain sufferers, isn’t some of this what we’ve been trying to tell doctors for years? Maybe we didn’t know all the technical terms and stuff, but haven’t we been saying for years with our illnesses that the brain is affected? When you stop and think about it, isn’t it kind of funny that when you read “latest reports” like this you can say to yourself, “Well duh! I already knew that!”?
Barbara K. says
Thanks for blogging about this study. While for those of us who have lived with chronic pain the news is indeed a “duh,” I think this kind of academic validation helps pain and its associated changes to be taken more seriously.
Sandy Robinson says
Thanks, Barbara! I agree.