Chronic Pain and Brain Activity

Ever wonder why one person may suffer from a chronic pain condition while another, who suffered the same type of injury, does not? A recent study tracked the brain activity of 40 people with new back injuries for one year. After one year, the group was divided into two smaller groups: (1) those whose pain was resolving and (2) those whose pain persisted. Interestingly, at the start of the study, both the persistent pain group and the recovering group reported similar levels of pain. However, the persistent group differed from the recovery group in terms of their emotional feelings about the pain.

As part of the study, researchers used brain scans to focus on the interactions between two parts of the brain – the nucleus accumbens and the medial prefrontal cortex. The study found that the more connections between thenucleus accumbens, which is a brain region involved in emotional and motivational behavior, and the frontal cortex, which includes regions involved in both acute and chronic pain, the more likely a person was to develop chronic pain. The study suggests that the emotional reaction of the brain to the injury is a key factor.  The scans examined by the researches revealed a pattern of brain activity that could predict which patients would develop chronic pain, with an 85% level of accuracy.

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