Today's post comes from medicalnewstoday.com (see link below) and talks about how performing some sort of activity by using your brain, can provide enough distraction to block pain signals. Most people will probably agree that, turning your mind to something else, can often 'take your mind off' the pain, if only for a short time. Apparently this releases brain-produced opioids which physically interfere with incoming pain signals and the effect is not just psychosomatic. People with severe neuropathy may well be sceptical about how effective this is in reality. Many times, nerve pain is so pervasive, the idea of summoning up the willpower to turn your attention to something else, seems unrealistic. That said, there is nothing wrong with practising and trying to find distractions from pain, especially if you now accept that this can bring on a positive physical response in the brain. Mind over matter may be the cliche that works for you!
Distraction As Pain Relief
Article Date: 19 May 2012 - 0:00 PDT
Mental distractions make pain easier to take, and those pain-relieving effects
aren't just in your head, according to a report published online in Current
Biology, a Cell Press publication.
The findings based on
high-resolution spinal fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) as people
experienced painful levels of heat show that mental distractions actually
inhibit the response to incoming pain signals at the earliest stage of central
"The results demonstrate that this phenomenon is not
just a psychological phenomenon, but an active neuronal mechanism reducing the
amount of pain signals ascending from the spinal cord to higher-order brain
regions," said Christian Sprenger of the University Medical Center
Those effects involve endogenous opioids, which are
naturally produced by the brain and play a key role in the relief of pain, the
new evidence shows.
The research group asked participants to complete
either a hard or an easy memory task, both requiring them to remember letters,
while they simultaneously applied a painful level of heat to their arms.
When study participants were more distracted by the harder of the two
memory tasks, they did indeed perceive less pain. What's more, their less
painful experience was reflected by lower activity in the spinal cord as
observed by fMRI scans. (fMRI is often used to measure changes in brain
activity, Sprenger explained, and recent advances have made it possible to
extend this tool for use in the spinal cord.)
Sprenger and colleagues
then repeated the study again, this time giving participants either a drug
called naloxone, which blocks the effects of opioids, or a simple saline
infusion. The pain-relieving effects of distraction dropped by 40 percent during
the application of the opioid antagonist compared to saline, evidence that
endogenous opioids play an essential role.
The findings show just how
deeply mental processes can go in altering the experience of pain, and that may
have clinical importance.
"Our findings strengthen the role of
cognitive-behavioral therapeutic approaches in the treatment of pain diseases,
as it could be extrapolated that these approaches might also have the potential
to alter the underlying neurobiological mechanisms as early as in the spinal
cord," the researchers say.