Brain Structure Predicts Pain Sensitivity:
Some people feel pain more intensely than others, and new research suggests differences in pain sensitivity may be related to differences in brain structure .
In a new study , the researchers asked 116 healthy people to rate the intensity of their pain when a small spot on the skin of your arm or leg is heated to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. A few days after the test of pain sensitivity , participants had their brains scanned in a MRI machine .
The results showed a link between an individual ‘s sensitivity to pain, and the thickness of the cortex of his brain, in regions that have been previously linked to attention control and introspection. The thinner the crust in these areas, people were more sensitive to painful stimuli . [5 Surprising Facts about pain ]
“Subjects with higher pain intensities had less gray matter in brain regions that contribute to the control of thoughts and internal attention ,” said study researcher Nichole Emerson , a graduate student at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.
Understanding how the experience of pain in the brain is essential for the development of treatments for people who suffer chronic pain, and scientists are looking for why people react differently to pain .
A previous study found recently that structural differences in the brain predicts whether people healed after injury or chronic pain developed . Furthermore, researchers have found that the pain itself can change brain structure , even temporarily .
Brain areas that the new study would be linked to pain sensitivity are part of a network of regions that are activated when people are resting or daydreaming , or in other words , are in ” default mode . ”
Maybe that’s why people with lower gray matter volume in these areas are more sensitive to pain , and vice versa, according to the researchers .
” The default mode activity can compete with brain activity that generates an experience of pain,” said researcher Robert Coghill , a professor of neurobiology and anatomy at Wake Forest Baptist . In other words, people who spend more time in the ” default mode ” may be less sensitive to pain.
Other areas that the researchers found to be associated with pain include the posterior parietal cortex is thought to play an important role in the control of attention . People who can best keep their attention focused may also be best to keep the pain under control, Coghill said.