Thursday, February 17, 2011
Study shows power of the brain to deal with pain
Researchers from Oxford and Cambridge and two German universities have shed new light on the power of the mind and the brain's ability to cope with pain. They studied 22 volunteers, each of whom had a pain device placed on their skin that was too hot for comfort. The volunteers were asked to score their pain on a scale of 0 to 100 at various points in the study and also had MRI scans to measure the activity in the pain centres of their brains. At first the participants gave their pain an average score of 66, then the researchers gave them some opiate painkillers via an intravenous drip. Before they told the participants they were getting some painkiller their average pain score fell from 66 to 55 but once the researchers told them they were getting some pain relief their scores fell to an average of 39. Without actually stopping the drugs the researchers then said they were shutting off the supply of painkillers at which point the participants' average pain score went back up again to 64. At the same time the MRI scans of the participants' brain activity showed decreased activity in the pain centres when they thought they were getting the drug and increased activity when they thought they weren't receiving them. The study shows how belief in the effectiveness of a drug can be almost as important as the drug's actual effects and sheds light both on the placebo effect and on patients who are 'resistant' to painkillers.