Quite apart from the physical pressures of living in pain, more light is now being shed on just how damaging the psychological effects of experiencing pain are. As methods for scanning and imaging the brain and monitoring its activity have developed in recent years, so we are learning more about the nature of pain and how it affects the brain.
In the past decade or so, studies on both humans and animals have identified a network of pain-transmitting areas within the Central Nervous System, leading to better understanding of how pain relates to distinct areas of the brain. It seems that, no matter what syndrome of pain a person is experiencing, there are some common areas of the brain that are involved in processing it.
According to a 2008 paper by the International Association for the Study of Pain, recent neurobiological findings indicate 'local morphologic alterations of the brain in areas ascribable to the transmission of pain.' This was the case in patients 'suffering from phantom pain, chronic back pain, irritable bowl syndrome, fibromyalgia and two types of frequent headaches'.
While the effects on the brain were different for each pain syndrome, they overlapped in some areas of the brain: notably the cingulate cortex, the orbitofrontal cortex, the insula and dorsal pons, which seem to act as 'multi-integrative structures during the experience and the anticipation of pain'. It was observed that one of the effects of pain was to decrease the amount of grey matter in these regions.
The author of the paper, Arne May, notes that this phenomenon could be termed a 'common brain signature' in chronic pain patients, but also asks the question whether the changes are causes or consequences of the pain: the classic 'which comes first?' scenario.
At the end of the paper the author suggests that the changes in the brain of chronic pain patients are 'the consequence of frequent nociceptive input and should thus be reversible when pain is adequately treated.' One of the powerful effects of a spinal impulse is that it reduces nociception which means it can reduce/prevent chronic pain and therefore brain shrinkage. Of course more studies will need to be done on this subject especially in relation to the long time period associated with chronic (as opposed to acute) pain but there is hope that future findings can provide breakthroughs in the treatment of pain.
With further advances in neuroscience and functional MRI technology, it is becoming much easier to monitor changes in the brain, blood-flow, and neuronal activity, which should tell us even more about the nature of pain and how to go about alleviating its harmful effects.
Meanwhile, the findings also show just how important it is to treat the cause of the pain rather than just the symptoms which, unfortunately, is what modern medicine often does. Natural medicine such as chiropractic care treats the true cause of your pain not just the symptoms, whether it be back pain, sciatica, neck pain, headaches or any type of pain in your body, we are here to help get you Back to Life!