A recent study in National Geographic demonstrated the many chronic pains people live with on a day to day basis are memorized or hard wired in your body. Memorization of neurological circuits is part of the makeup of individuals suffering with chronic pain in addition to pain sensitization. Just like the way you would learn any skill, such as a sport or musical instrument is repetition. It takes years of focused practice to attain the highest level of competence in a given field. Pain impulses are also repetitive input that can become embedded in your brain. One major difference is how rapidly these impulses are received. One metaphor that jumps out a me is that of a machine gun. The pain is memorized within a matter of months. Once they are defined, they can be permanent long after the injury your body has healed.
Thoughts are also memorized and can become obsessive circuits. Unfortunately, the brain becomes more focused on negative thoughts because there is natural tendency to suppress them. Although you make think you are successfully conquering them, you are actually giving them more neurological attention. “The surgeon screwed up my back.” “I can’t get out of bed.” “The pain is ruining my life.” These circuits can take on a life of their own, running on a constant loop. If left unchecked, they turn into a serious obstacle to recovery; one that’s not a psychological issue as much as it is a “programming” issue. At Club Recharge we have developed tools to break the cycle of memorized pain, but first you have to conceptualize how the brain works.
Neurological connections associated with pain will often continue to function, even if the offending stimulus is removed. A widely known example of this is “phantom limb” pain. It occurs in patients who require an amputation, usually because blood supply to the limb is compromised by vascular disease. Prior to the amputation, the limb is under severe pain and distress amplifying the pain signals to the brain . After the limb is removed, up to 60% of patients feel the pain as though the limb were still there. Almost 40% of sufferers characterize the pain as anywhere from distressing to even more severe than before, simply put your brain hard wired the pain message in the neurological path.
There's evidence that any pain that lasts more than a few minutes will leave a trace in the nervous system.” It's this memory of pain, which exists at the neuronal level, that is critical to the development of chronic pain. Old pain, though, when you can't remember what caused it in the first place, well, that's just not right. The problem is that for all the wonderful things our brain does, it has a hard time forgetting pain.
Researchers discovered that it may be possible to ease chronic pain by erasing memories stored in the brain.
It has long been known that the central nervous system “remembers” painful experiences, that they leave a memory trace of pain. And when there is new sensory input, the pain memory trace in the brain magnifies the feeling so that even a gentle touch can be excruciating.
It’s this memory of pain, which exists at the neuronal level, that is critical to the development of chronic pain. But until now, it was not known how these pain memories were stored at the level of the neurons.
Recent work has shown that the protein kinase PKMzeta plays a crucial role in building and maintaining memory by strengthening the connections between neurons. In the new research, published in the journal Molecular Pain, Coderre and colleagues have discovered that PKMzeta is also the key to understanding how the memory of pain is stored in the neurons. They were able to show that after painful stimulation, the level of PKMzeta increases persistently in the central nervous system (CNS).
Even more importantly, the researchers found that by blocking the activity of PKMzeta at the neuronal level, they could reverse the hypersensitivity to pain that neurons developed after irritating the skin by applying capsaicin—the active ingredient in hot peppers. Moreover, erasing this pain memory trace was found to reduce both persistent pain and heightened sensitivity to touch.
Coderre and his colleagues believe that building on this study to devise ways to target PKMzeta in pain pathways could have a significant effect for patients with chronic pain.
“Many pain medications target pain at the peripheral level, by reducing inflammation, or by activating analgesia systems in the brain to reduce the feeling of pain,” says Coderre.
“This is the first time that we can foresee medications that will target an established pain memory trace as a way of reducing pain hypersensitivity. We believe it’s an avenue that may offer new hope to those suffering from chronic pain.”