In a recent study, scientists at The University of Manchester have shown for the first time that if the brain is ‘tuned-in’ to a particular frequency, pain can be reduced.
Chronic pain – pain that lasts for more than 6 months – is a real problem for many people, with 20-50 % of the general population estimated to suffer from it (comprising 20% of consultations in general practice).
It is a much greater problem in the elderly with 62% of the UK population over 75 year’s old suffering from it.
Chronic pain is often a mixture of recurrent acute pains and chronic persistent pain. Unfortunately there are very few treatments available that are completely safe, particularly in the elderly.
In the study, researchers at The University of Manchester found that alpha waves from the front of the brain may be influencing how other parts of the brain process pain.
In the brain, nerve cells are coordinated with each other at a particular frequency depending on the state of the brain.
Among different frequencies, alpha waves (9-12 cycles per second) have been recently associated with enabling parts of the brain concerned with higher control to influence other parts of the brain.
This led to the idea that if we can ‘tune’ the brain to express more alpha waves, perhaps we can reduce pain experienced by people with certain conditions.
In the study, the researchers confirmed this idea. They found that both visual and auditory stimulation in the alpha range significantly reduced the pain induced by laser-heat on the back of the arm.
This finding provides a potentially new, simple and safe therapy that can now be tested in patients.
Further studies are required to test the effectiveness in patients with different pain conditions but the simplicity and low cost of the technology should facilitate such clinical studies.
News source: The University of Manchester.
Figure legend: This Knowridge.com image is credited to The University of Manchester.