Chronic pain sufferers may have a different neural response to acute pain than those without chronic pain. The difference in responses to a painful stimulus is the opposite between the two groups. While healthy volunteers registered the removal of a painful stimulus as a reward, chronic pain sufferers appeared to reflect a predicted punishment response.
These two forms of learning, reward and predicted punishment, are ways in which the body is taught interpretation of acute pain as a motivation for behavior. This means that chronic pain sufferers process acute pain in different ways.
The following is a portion of the MedPage Today, Article "Chronic Pain Alters Experience of Acute Pain";
Researchers have found that chronic pain may reverse the neural response to acute pain. Although sensory activation patterns in the central nervous system were nearly identical between healthy volunteers and chronic back pain sufferers, in a study reported in the April 15 issue of Neuron. the difference is in the brain's interpretation of acute pain as a motivation for behavior, according to A. Vania Apkarian, PhD, of Northwestern University in Chicago, and colleagues.
At the end of a painful heat stimulus, this portion of the brain registered phasic activity in chronic pain patients with the opposite polarity of that seen in healthy adults. Although removal of a painful sensation usually registers as a reward, among chronic pain patients it actually appeared to reflect a predicted punishment, the researchers explained.
A number of changes have been seen in the brain of individuals with chronic pain, including abnormal brain chemistry, regional gray matter atrophy, cognitive changes, and unique patterns of brain activity.
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