A recent study published in JAMA Network Open has found that individuals who learned to view their chronic pain as originating from their brain or mind experienced a reduction in pain intensity. The study emphasizes that all pain is real, regardless of its underlying cause, and that pain is generated by neural circuits in the brain.
The researchers note that helping patients understand the role of the brain in chronic pain can empower them and give them more control over their pain. They emphasize that this does not mean patients are imagining their pain, but rather that shifting their perspective can have a positive impact on their pain management and treatment decisions.
The study examined data from a clinical trial involving pain reprocessing therapy (PRT), which aims to teach individuals to perceive pain signals as less threatening. The trial included over 150 adults with moderately severe chronic back pain who were randomly assigned to receive PRT, an inactive placebo injection, or usual care.
Previous findings from the trial showed that two-thirds of participants who underwent PRT were pain-free or nearly pain-free after four weeks, compared to fewer than one-fifth of those who received the placebo or usual care. This new paper focuses on understanding how individuals recovered from chronic back pain after undergoing PRT.
At the beginning of the trial, only 10% of participants attributed their pain to the brain or mind across all three groups. However, in the group that received PRT, this percentage increased to 51% by the end of the treatment period. In contrast, only 8% of participants in the placebo and usual care groups attributed their pain to the brain or mind after four weeks.
Furthermore, the study found that the more participants shifted their beliefs to view their mind or brain as the source of their pain, the greater the reduction in their reported back pain intensity.
The researchers believe that PRT helps individuals understand that their pain is a "false alarm" and not caused by an underlying injury or physical condition. This understanding can help break the cycle of fear and heightened pain perception that often accompanies chronic pain.
While the study highlights the potential benefits of shifting one's perspective on chronic pain, it also acknowledges that PRT is not suitable for all types of chronic pain. The therapy is specifically designed for pain without an underlying physical cause, such as injury, tumor, or inflammation.
Overall, the study provides evidence that changing one's beliefs about the source of chronic pain can lead to a reduction in pain intensity. It suggests that pain reprocessing therapy may be a valuable tool for individuals with certain types of chronic pain and emphasizes the importance of understanding the role of the brain in pain perception.