Cutting Edge Psychology

Evidence that chronic pain begins in the head

Posted on March 2, 2013 at 11:05 PM

Baliki and fellow researchers at Northwestern University have demonstrated that differences in brain functioning between those who suffer from chronic pain and those who do not are predictive of developing the problem. In a longitudinal study, they found that people whose pain developed to become chronic were neurologically different from those whose pain ended in the acute phase following an injury. Specifically, those whose pain continued and became chronic were much more likey to have high levels of neurological activity in their prefrontal cortex and their nucleus accumbens- and there was a great deal more neurological traffic between these two brain areas compared to people whose pain did not progress on to become chronic.

No other pain specialists seem to have yet picked up on the following:- this is the same brain signature pattern as seen in people who are able to maintain a positive outlook and mood (see the discussion of Emotional Styles by neuroscientists Richard Davidson under 'The Book' button).Those who suffer the emotional pain of depressed mood show the opposite brain signature, ie. low levels of traffic between their prefrontal cortex and their nucleus accumbens. And those who do not suffer from chronic pain also show this brain pattern. As such, there appears to be a neurological relationship between deliberating maintaining a high mood and high chance of chronic pain/low mood and low chance of chronic pain.

The psychogenic theory of pain causation promoted in 'The Hidden Psychology of Pain' suggests that chronic pain is initiated by the unconscious mind/brain as a psychological defense mechanism in order to distract attention away from emotionally threatening psychological material- this is a means of maintaining a more positive outlook, rather than allowing us to sink into despair or panic were our unconscious to allow such threatening material to emerge into our conscious awareness. When Davidson's and Baliki's findings are combined, it is clear that cutting edgle neuroscience supports the relationship between chronic pain and the need to maintain a positive mood. This is the function of all psychological defense mechanisms.

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