When it comes to pain - mind over matter works

According to experts in the U.S., they have strong scientific proof that mind over matter works for relieving pain.

They say positive thinking was as powerful as a shot of morphine for relieving pain and reduced activity in parts of the brain that process pain information.

The researchers at Wake Forest University, say their findings show that by merely expecting pain to be less it will be less.

In their study Dr Robert Coghill and his team looked at 10 normal, healthy volunteers who had a heat simulator applied to their legs to produce pain, while their brains were being scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), to map brain activity.

Researcher Dr Robert Coghill says that before the subjects underwent brain imaging, they learned to expect mild, moderate, or severe painful heat stimuli following different signals. The stimuli were not hot enough to cause burns or damage the skin.

The researchers saw, during the brain imaging, that a small percentage of the severe stimuli were incorrectly signalled as moderate stimuli to create expectations of decreased pain.

It appears that when they expected lower levels of pain, all the volunteers reported less pain.

These expectations reduced reports of pain by more than 28%, which is similar to an analgesic dose of the potent painkiller morphine.

At the same time, activity in areas of the brain important to both sensory and emotional processing of pain decreased.

These areas included the primary somatosensory cortex, the insular cortex and the anterior cingulate cortex.

Dr Coghill says it is clear that pain is not solely the result of signals coming from an injured body region.

It therefore needs to be treated with more than just pills, and as the brain can powerfully shape pain, that power needs to be exploited.

He said the findings support the potential for the use of cognitive therapy for the treatment of pain, and to some extent explains the positive impact of psychological techniques in treating chronic pain

Other experts have also recognised psychological factors such as expectations play a role in the perception and experience of pain, and say that the study is intriguing in that it has aimed to identify specific brain regions linked to both the pain experience and expectations associated with pain.

Dr Beverly Collette, president of the British Pain Society, says that most people who work in pain clinics use cognitive therapy to help people manage their pain better.

The study is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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