Chronic Pain Distorts Our Perception of Space-Time
Among the wide array of intriguing sensations known to man, pain stands quite distinctly. It unites us, separates us, motivates us, drives us and in instances controls us. Everyone’s perception of pain is similar and yet different. What may be immensely agonizing for some, might be just a slight stinging sensation for others. Yet, around the globe, each and every human understands and relates to the philosophy of pain in much the same way.
It is mainly the nature of our experiences that differentiates our perceptions of pain. According to recent research, those afflicted with chronic pain, learn to perceive their surroundings in a manner different from non-sufferers. The cause of this lies in the idea that the brain’s sense of the body itself and the space around it is altered by exposure to chronic pain.
Neuroscientists from Australia and Italy put their heads together to observe people suffering from chronic back pain. They placed vibration stimuli to the painful area and a healthy area as well on the sufferers’ backs. It is important to note that these stimuli were identical. The results however reflected that the sufferers perceived the stimuli from the painful area more slowly.
This leads to the implication that the brains of these suffering individuals processed stimuli from painful areas slowly. Interestingly however, the effect was the same when a non-painful area of the body near the painful region was exposed to stimuli. Other studies have previously shown that in people with chronic pain, the way the brain processes information about a painful body part is altered.
Lorimer Moseley, the lead author of this study that was published in the Journal of Neurology, relates, “What is remarkable is that the problem affects the space around the body as well as the body itself.” This conclusion was based on the observation that when participants held their hand near the painful back area, their brains barely registered the presence of the hand. Interestingly, the results seem fitting of Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity which establishes that space-time is warped by the presence of matter.
“The potential similarity between our findings and the time-space distortion predicted by the relativity theory is definitely intriguing.” Moseley said, “Obviously here it isn’t external space that is distorted but the ability of the brain to represent that space within its neural circuitry. This finding opens up a whole new area of research into the way the brain allows us to interact with the world and how this can be disrupted in chronic pain.”
The findings of more such studies can help physicians devise a more effective approach and management plan for patients in chronic pain that caters to their psychological needs.
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