Chronic pain is all in your brain: Scientists

Chronic pain

Ever wondered why some people experience chronic pain than others from similar injuries? It's because their brains are hardwired differently to respond to injuries, scientists say.

A team led by Prof Vania Apakarian from the Northwestern University in Chicago found that the emotional state of the

brain plays a key role in how a person responds to injuries.

In their first longitudinal brain imaging study, the team tracked participants with a back injury and found that chronic

pain emerges as a result of an emotional response to an injury

and the process involves interaction between two brain regions, frontal cortex and nucleus accumbens, that are linked to emotional and motivational behaviour.

"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," Prof Apakarian was quoted as saying by the Daily Telegraph.

The more emotionally the brain reacted to the initial injury, the more likely it was that pain will persist after the injury has healed, he said.

Prof Apakarian added: "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 involved 40 volunteers who had all suffered an episode of back pain lasting one to four months. Four brain

scans were carried out on each participant over the course of one year.

The results, published in journal Nature Neuroscience, made it possible to predict with 85 per cent accuracy which individuals would go on to develop chronic pain.

The nucleus accumbens teaches the rest of the brain how to evaluate and react to the outside world.

Prof Apakarian said it may use the initial pain signal to teach other parts of the brain to develop chronic pain.

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