News / Mental Health

'Tuning-In' Brain Can Treat Chronic Pain, Say Scientists

Scientists have shown for the first time that 'tuning-in' the brain to a particular frequency can alleviate chronic pain, paving way for a simple and safe therapy to treat the condition.

Chronic pain - which lasts for more than six months - is a real problem for many people, with 20-50 per cent of the general population estimated to suffer from it.

Chronic pain is often a mixture of recurrent acute pains and chronic persistent pain. Unfortunately there are very few treatments available that are completely safe, particularly in the elderly.

Nerve cells on the surface of the brain are co-ordinated with each other at a particular frequency depending on the state of the brain.

Alpha waves which are tuned at 9-12 cycles per second have been recently associated with enabling parts of the brain concerned with higher control to influence other parts of the brain.

Both visual and auditory stimulation significantly reduced the intensity of pain induced by laser-heat repeatedly shone on the back of the arm.

Further studies are required to test the effectiveness in patients with different pain conditions but the simplicity and low cost of the technology should facilitate such clinical studies.

Tuning the brain with light or sound waves reduces pain

Stimulating the brain with certain kinds of light and sound can alleviate pain, new research at the University of Manchester has revealed.

Scientists used light flashes and sound of a particular frequency on volunteers suffering from heat induced pain. The feeling of pain was reported to have gone down.

Chronic pain- pain which lasts for more than six months - is a real problem for many people, with 20-50 % of the general population estimated to suffer from it. It is a much greater problem in the elderly. Chronic pain is often a mixture of recurrent acute pains and chronic persistent pain. Unfortunately there are very few treatments available that are completely safe, particularly in the elderly. Nerve cells on the surface of the brain are coordinated with each other at a particular frequency depending on the state of the brain. Alpha waves which are tuned at 9-12 cycles per second have been recently associated with enabling parts of the brain concerned with higher control to influence other parts of the brain. This led to the idea that if we can 'tune' the brain to express more alpha waves, perhaps we can reduce pain experienced by people with certain conditions. Dr Kathy Ecsy and her colleagues in The University of Manchester's Human Pain Research Group have shown that this can be done by providing volunteers with goggles that flash light in the alpha range or by sound stimulation in both ears phased to provide the same stimulus frequency. They found that both visual and auditory stimulation significantly reduced the intensity of pain induced by laser-heat repeatedly shone on the back of the arm. "This is very exciting because it provides a potentially new, simple and safe therapy that can now be trialled in patients. At recent public engagements events we have had a lot of enthusiasm from patients for this kind of neuro-therapeutic approach," said Professor Anthony Jones, director of the Manchester Pain Consortium which is focussed on improving the understanding and treatment of chronic pain. Further studies are required to test the effectiveness in patients with different pain conditions but the simplicity and low cost of the technology should facilitate such clinical studies. Dr Chris Brown, who is a Lecturer in Psychology at The University of Liverpool, who was involved in the research while working in Manchester, said: "It is interesting that similar results were obtained with visual and auditory stimulation, which will provide some flexibility when taking this technology into patient studies. For instance this might be particularly useful for patients having difficulty sleeping because of recurrent pain at night."


ref.: ndtv.com, News / The University of Manchester

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