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Pain Experiences

Posted by Dorothy on 8/09/03 at 03:51 (126624)

Found this interesting (from New Scientist):
The World's No.1 Science & Technology News Service

Pain really is 'all in the mind'

22:00 23 June 03

NewScientist.com news service

Doctors and nurses have known for many years that some people are more sensitive to pain than others. Now brain scans of people experiencing the same painful stimulus have provided the first proof that this is so. But the scans also suggest that how much something hurts really is 'all in the mind'.

'We saw a huge variation between responses to the same stimulus,' says project leader Bob Coghill of the Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. 'The message is: trust what patients are telling you.'

Coghill tested the pain tolerance of 17 healthy volunteers by applying heat to the back of their calves. He varied the heat from around body temperature to 49 C, the temperature of very hot washing-up water.

Volunteers asked to rate the pain on a scale of zero to 10 showed huge variations. One resilient volunteer rated pain at the hottest temperature at just over one, whereas another could scarcely bear it at all, rating it at almost nine.

Stark differences

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Brain mechanism of pain, Bob Coghill, Wake Forest University

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Then Coghill repeated the experiment when the volunteers were in MRI brain scanners. The scans revealed stark differences that reflected each individual's sensitivity to pain. The volunteers least able to bear pain showed more activity in the cerebral cortex, the region of the brain associated with higher cognitive function. Specific areas activated included the prefrontal cortex - linked with attention, working memory and emotion - and the anterior cingulate cortex, a region already linked with pain. Finally, the 'leg' region lit up on the primary somatosensory cortex - a pain 'map' of the body.

None of these areas lit up in the resilient individuals. But an area called the thalamus, which receives pain messages from the spinal cord and peripheral nerves, was active in all 17 volunteers. This suggests that the pain signal was not dampened on its way to the brain in any of the volunteers, so all the differences must be down to what happens in the brain itself.

'Once the signal arrives, the cerebral cortex interprets and colours the information based on prior experience, emotion and expectation, and that's when the differences kick in,' says Coghill.

Journal reference: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1430684100)

Andy Coghlan

Re: Are you stoic or a wimp?

Sharon W on 8/10/03 at 09:22 (126674)


I thought you might be interested in this: there was some research that came out a few months back that helps to answer the question of why some people feel pain more. There is literally a 'wimp gene' -- check it out:





Re: Are you stoic or a wimp?

Dorothy on 8/10/03 at 18:58 (126700)

Thank you, Sharon W. This is a very interesting line of research/findings.
I wonder how it would account for people who are sometimes 'wimps' and other times 'stoics'; maybe this would be the 'waffler' gene.
Thanks again.

Re: Stragegies for pain control

Sharon W on 8/11/03 at 16:43 (126741)


This research doesn't touch on that at all, of course, but it's quite obvious that genetics isn't the ONLY factor involved in how much pain we're feeling!!

It has been established that stress (especially when associated with negative emotions and/or life events) can heighten your awareness of pain and discomfort. (Most people realize intuitively, anyway, that when you're 'all stressed out' everything seems to hurt more...)

Stress may be mostly a hormonal event, when looked at on a biochemical level -- but in terms of every day living what it means is, if you can find ways to reduce your negative emotions and calm your stress, you will probably start to feel better physically as well as emotionally. For many people, finding some sort of exercise that they can enjoy will help to do that as well as to prevent the health problems associated with inactivity. For others, getting involved with a church group or a charity can make a big difference. For still others, discovering their own creative abilities with art and/or crafts accupuncture, or meditation, or self-hypnosis, or yoga... there really is no one answer for everyone.

Isn't it wonderful that we are all different? The world would be so terribly boring if everyone were the same!!