What Are The Possible Links Between Chronic Pain and the Brain?

Jul 05, 2017

misc image

Almost every chronic pain patient has been told that they are imagining the pain at least once in their lives.

Almost every chronic pain patient has been told that they are imagining the pain at least once in their lives. This statement is an understandable source of frustration for many people; it is reductive and trivializes the impact chronic pain can have on one’s life. Such beliefs also assume that anything happening “in your head” should be considered minor. What is inside your head, after all, largely determines how you move, feel, and think. That’s why it should come as no surprise to the medical community that a study from the Massachusetts General Hospital recently found evidence of an inflammation-linked protein that is more active in chronic pain patients. Your chronic pain may be coming from your head, but that doesn’t mean it’s made up.

The Study

Before this study, the only connection made between biological causes of chronic pain were done so with animal subjects. This current study – which began with a group of 19 chronic pain patients and 25 healthy patients – is the first of its kind. The researchers measured biological causes and physical results using a positron emission tomography (PET) scan. Through multiple tests, they found the anti-inflammatory protein called the translocator protein (TSPO) was significantly more active in healthy controls than in chronic pain patients.

How Your Brain can Help Measure Chronic Pain

A common roadblock many doctors face with chronic pain is being unable to measure it. When there is no sign of any obvious damage, the physician may be tempted to say there is nothing wrong. The discovery of the anti-inflammatory protein’s connection to chronic pain can finally mean an established objective method of measuring the intensity of a patient’s condition. While more studies will be necessary for the researchers to establish a thorough report on how the protein is connected, the current findings seem to suggest that patients with less active TSPOs are those who are more likely to experience chronic pain.

Chronic Pain Treatments for the Future

While this research is a step in the right direction – both for chronic pain patients and the doctors who treat them – there is still a significant amount of testing necessary before what is learned in the lab can be used for use in public hospitals. Fortunately, pain centers exist for patients who cannot find assistance from their general practitioner. Garden State Pain Center is one such pain clinic in New Jersey that offers treatment for people who feel chronic pain. Contact us today to schedule an appointment and find what will work best for you.