Pain: we’ve all experienced it. Around the world, it’s the most common malady people seek medical assistance for.
A new study from the medicine department at the University of Michigan, and published in the medical journal ‘Pain’, has used MRI to take a deeper look at the causes of this common problem that affects so many.
“Sometimes we can easily pinpoint what is causing a person pain,” says Richard Harris, Ph.D., lead author of the study. “But, there are still 1 in 5 Americans who suffer from persistent pain that is not easily identifiable.”
The researchers studied data from 1,079 participants of a MAPP pain study where the participants had filled out extensive questionnaires detailing their level of pain, and location of pain in the body. Then, a portion of the participants underwent functional MRI scans.
“Surprisingly, many of the individuals, in addition to having pain located in the pelvic region, had pain also widely distributed throughout their body,” said Harris. “Interestingly, when we put these individuals into the brain imaging scanner, we found that those who had widespread pain had increased gray matter and brain connectivity within sensory and motor cortical areas, when compared to pain-free controls.”
Interestingly, brain changes in the gray matter were identical in patients with chronic pelvic pain and patients with fibromyalgia, but not seen at all in a pain-free control group.
The researchers hope that this new study will promote further discussion amongst doctors and researchers about new approaches to pain management.
“We think that this type of study will help treat these patients because if they have a central nerve biological component to their disorder, they’re much more likely to benefit from targets that affect the central nervous system rather than from treatments that are aimed at the pelvic region,” said Harris.