Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Right Target in Chronic Pain Cases: The Brain

Need convincing that the key to chronic pain management lies in behavioral health?  NPR has a great piece today on the human brain's ability to deal with pain signals and what this might mean for chronic pain management.

"The brain also determines the emotion we attach to each painful experience, Linden says. That's possible, he explains, because the brain uses two different systems to process pain information coming from our nerve endings.
One system determines the pain's location, intensity and characteristics: stabbing, aching, burning, etc.
"And then," Linden says, "there is a completely separate system for the emotional aspect of pain — the part that makes us go, 'Ow! This is terrible.' "
Linden says positive emotions — like feeling calm and safe and connected to others — can minimize pain. But negative emotions tend to have the opposite effect." 

The article also references a study published in 2011 that found 8 weeks of "mindfulness" practice appeared to enhance a subject's ability to manage pain.

These articles and studies add to a growing body of evidence that suggests that when workers' compensation payers ignore the link between behavioral health and chronic pain, they do so at their own peril.  We must begin to routinely incorporate these modalities into chronic pain care, at every stage of the claim.  We have to stop being scared of psych diagnoses and begin addressing the route causes of chronic pain.

If you're focused on relief of non-specific low back pain and ignoring what's going on in the injured worker's brain (including the injured worker's emotional state), you're shooting at the wrong target.

On Twitter @PRIUM1

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