Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Can Sensitive Brains Cause Back Pain?

Researchers from the University of Michigan studied fifteen patients with lower back pain, fifteen patients with fibromyalgia, fifteen patients with a pulled muscle or ruptured disk, and fifteen healthy patients, and concluded that there is a pathologic, neurobiological amplification in some patients experiencing lower back pain. They presented their findings in New Orleans at the American College of Rheumatology Conference.

The study was based on the idea that some people who register lower back pain have no obvious physical reason for their pain.

Although the researchers did not find a treatment for this phenomenon, they hope that their research will lead to more information explaining lower back pain and that it will help provide a map of the regions of the brain that are activated when people experience pain.

The University of Michigan study involved brain scans to determine which areas of the brain were being stimulated by the pain. While the brain was being scanned, the base of the left thumbnail was stimulated by quick pulsating pressure that showed hardly any effect on the healthy patients, but produced feelings of pain in those with fibromyalgia and other lower back pain. The pulsating effect could be likened to a ‘gentle squeeze’, not an actual application of pain. Those who did not normally experience back pain had to be squeezed much more harshly to register the type of pain experienced by those who suffered from back pain. This left the researchers believing that some patients have a higher response to pain and are more sensitive. The reason for this is still unknown, but they are guessing that it has something to do with brain function.

The stimulus to the thumb did cause increased brain activity in all subjects, although it was different between the groups. They are using this information to determine with areas of the brain experience more pain and which areas register diminished pain.

The study is not being widely accepted as conclusive by some in the medical field, because many doctors feel that there could be a wide variety of reasons for the various activities in different regions of the brain. Some are arguing that different regions may have increased activity due to what the subjects are thinking about, or what they are experiencing internally (such as fear or excitement).

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