11:52am Sunday 22 October 2017

Is pain a case of mind over matter?

Professor Lorimer Moseley, Chair in Physiotherapy and Professor of Clinical Neurosciences at the University of South Australia, said we need to reframe our understanding of pain.Professor Lorimer Moseley, Chair in Physiotherapy and Professor of Clinical Neurosciences at the University of South Australia, said we need to reframe our understanding of pain.
 
“Pain has been part of the human experience longer than magnetic bracelets, ergonomic chairs, whiplash and repetitive strain injury. Yet it is just in the last few decades that we have realised how terrifically complex pain really is and how wrong many of our assumptions about pain really are,” he said.
 
“Pain is not a measure of true tissue damage, it’s a measure of the brain’s attempt to protect tissue.  Critically, the pain you feel is absolutely real, regardless of the true tissue damage.
 
“Experiments show, for example, that if you convince a child you are going to prick their finger with the tip of a compass, ask them to close their eyes and then touch their finger with a blunt object instead of the compass, the finger still hurts. This is because their brain is trying to protect them.
 
“Similarly, if a soldier’s leg is blown off in battle, it’s important to their survival that the leg doesn’t hurt because if it did they would attend to that injury instead of avoiding being shot. Isn’t that just a magnificent system? The brain is absolutely critical in our experience of pain.”
 
More Australians suffer from chronic pain than diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer combined, with chronic pain and its management costing Australia almost $100 million a day.
 
Prof Moseley said the nervous system changes when pain persists, making the management of chronic pain difficult.
 
He said that the longer the pain continues, the better our nervous system and brain become at making pain, meaning people can hurt even when the tissue that was injured is getting better.
 
“For example, if you’ve had back pain for 30 years and your back really hurts when you pick up a box, it’s possible that watching someone else pick up a box can make your back hurt. That’s how overprotective your nervous system can become” said Prof Moseley.
 
“I think we need to train the brain to start to overcome chronic pain. We can help people identify their pain triggers, whether they are body-related, neurological, psychological or related to sights, sounds, activities and postures.
 
“Once we have removed those triggers we then work to re-introduce them gradually. This can be a very complex task – we should never underestimate how wonderfully complex we are.”
 
Prof Moseley’s lecture Pain. Is it all just in your mind? is part of the Knowledge Works lecture series. It is on Wednesday May 4 at 6.30pm at the Mutual Community Lecture Theatre, Basil Hetzel Building,City East campus. Registrations are now full, but a vodcast of this lecture will be available on Monday May 9 at http://www.unisa.edu.au/knowledgeworks/default.asp.


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