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Sensitivity to Pain Linked to Brain Structure Differences



In the United States, researchers have finally made the connection in regards to how we process pain “ how we all process it differently “ through the inner workings of the brain. The research study has been released and includes detailed information showing the results of MRI scans that were done in accordance with people’s perceived pain threshold. The findings suggest that differences in a person’s grey matter from certain areas of the brain are corresponding to how people react to pain.

Dimensions of the Brain

The brain is composed of both grey and white matter: the grey matter is responsible for processing information while white matter is responsible for coordinating communication between the different areas of the brain. In order for researchers to conduct the study, a healthy set of volunteers were taken and tested for their individual sensitivity levels for pain by applying heat to areas of the arm or leg with temperatures of up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Those that participated in the study then had MRI scans which recorded the images of their brain structure.

The Link Between Higher Pain Intensity and Grey Matter in the Brain

From the research conducted, it was deduced that those with the highest measured intensity ratings had less grey matter in areas of the brain that were involved in attention control and internal thoughts. These areas of the brain include the posterior cingulate cortex and also two areas that are considered to be a part of the default mode. These areas are the precuneus and select portions of the posterior parietal cortex. The flowing of free thoughts (referred to by many as ‘daydreaming’) in the brain occurs in the default mode network, a group of connected areas in the brain. Those that have a high default mode level of activity would exhibit a reduction in sensitivity to pain.

Controlling Pain and the Posterior Parietal Cortex

Some parts of the posterior parietal cortex are more important for attention control tan others and those that have the ability to focus their attention are more capable of keeping their threshold for pain at a minimum and under control. The findings further support the claim that in the future, there will be more improved ways of classifying, diagnosing, and treating pain. Ultimately even, the prevention of pain will be a possibility. The results of the study can one day help doctors understand how to formulate the best treatment options for those that have bouts of chronic pain and conversely how to more effectively treat them. What this study has also shown is that once pain enters the picture, brain structure is changed, even if temporarily.

The Future of the Findings

The results of the study ultimately will have an important impact on the future of pain management. Potentially, the findings could help to pinpoint a person’s sensitivity to pain and thereby find better tools and techniques to combat it. As more research is conducted, development of newer procedures are set to revolutionize the way pain is detected and treated. The findings suggest that differences in a person’s grey matter from certain areas of the brain are corresponding to how people react to pain.