How Your Mental Health Affects Chronic Pain

How Your Mental Health Affects Chronic Pain

by Dr Emma Gray - 5th July, 2012

It has been long suspected by Mental Health professionals that an individual’s emotional state affects how they respond to injuries and chronic pain.
Brain scan research has confirmed that chronic pain can develop due to an emotional response to an injury, a process involving interactions of the Frontal Cortes and Nucleus Accumbens, which are two regions of the brain.
Professor Vania Apakarian, the lead scientist in the study, from Northwestern University in Chicago has said ”The injury itself is not enough to explain the ongoing pain. It has to do with the injury combined with the state of the brain….The more emotionally the brain reacted to the initial injury, the more likely it was that pain will persist after the injury has healed ”
He went onto say ”It may be that these sections of the brain are more excited to begin with in certain individuals, or there may be genetic and environmental influences that predispose these brain regions to interact at an excitable level.”
The trial concentrated on 40 individuals who all experienced episodes of back pain lasting between 1 and 4 months.
Brain scans were conducted on the group every three months for 1 year. The results of these scans, published in the Nature Neuroscience medical journal, allowed the team to predict with an amazing 85% accuracy rate which of the volunteers would subsequently develop chronic pain.
Professor Vania Apakarian said that the brain is taught by the Nucleus Accumbens (region of the brain) how to process and respond to the outside world and that this region of the brain could be using the “initial pain signals to teach other parts of the brain to develop chronic pain……’Now we hope to develop new therapies for treatment based on this finding,””

 


Dr Emma Gray

Dr Emma Gray

I am often the first person with whom my patients share significant and intimate thoughts and memories; I never take that privileged position for granted nor the opportunity to help someone to feel better about themselves and discover a more fulfilling life. One of my colleague once described me as natural psychologist; I guess she was alluding to the fact that I feel at ease being a therapist, I can empathise with people’s distress and discomfort but don’t feel overwhelmed by it, I can understand their problem and know how to help, it has always just felt like what I should be doing.


Read more about my approach to counselling here...


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