With training and the use of high-tech imaging equipment, subjects were able to influence their pain by controlling activity in one of the pain centers of the brain through the use of mental exercises and by visualizing their own brain activity in real time.
Compare it to exercising your muscles in a top-of-the-line weight room. After repeated practice, you get better at it.
The scientists are hopeful the new technique may have potential for future use as long-term treatment for chronic pain patients - possibly even without all the high-tech equipment. They caution that significantly more work is needed before it can be thought of as a clinical treatment.
"We believe these subjects and patients really learned to control their brain and, through that, their pain," said Sean Mackey, MD, PhD, assistant professor of anesthesia and co-author of the study to be published in the Dec. 12 online issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The study posed two questions: "Can healthy subjects and patients with chronic pain learn to control activity in specific regions of their brain? And, in doing so, does this lead to an improved control of their pain?" The answer to both was a resounding "Yes." A second, larger study is under way to test the potential for long-term use in future therapy.
"Pain has a huge impact on individual patients, their families and society," said Mackey, who is also associate director of Stanford's pain management division. A recent national survey showed that more than half of all Americans suffer from chronic pain. "I got incredibly jazzed by the results [of the imaging study]," Mackey added. "We could change people's lives. However, significantly more science and testing must be done before t
Contact: Tracie White
Stanford University Medical Center