The Brain May Aggravate Chronic Pain
Chronic pain, which affects millions of Americans, may be linked with “emotional” brain patterns as well as physical injury, researchers say.
A study conducted by experts at Northwestern University showed that the level of interaction between two areas of the brain, which govern emotional and motivational behavior , determines whether pain from an injury will become chronic. The two areas are the frontal cortex and the nucleus accumbens.
“For the first time we can explain why people who may have the exact same initial pain either go on to recover or develop chronic pain,” A. Vania Apakarian, senior author of the paper and professor of physiology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said in a statement.
“The injury by itself is not enough to explain the ongoing pain. It has to do with the injury combined with the state of the brain….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.”
The study examined subjects with no history of back pain who suffered an initial episode of that condition. It predicted with 85 percent accuracy which individuals would go on to suffer chronic pain.
Apkarian said the study indicated the need to develop new therapies for treatment of chronic pain, which affects 30 to 40 million Americans and costs an estimated $600 billion per year. The most common cause of chronic pain is back pain.
The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, was published in the journal “Nature Neuroscience.”