People are disabled from many different causes, including mental health issues, debilitating diseases or accidents, and more. But, you may be surprised to learn that chronic pain is the number one cause of disability in the world.
A new study conducted at the University of North Carolina Health Care has come up with a new treatment for chronic pain. The study was published in the Official Journal of The American Pain Society. When a study gets published in a top journal—such as The Journal of Pain—it usually means the researchers’ findings were significant.
In the study, scientists discovered for the first time that targeting a specific region of the brain with a very weak electrical current, helped the brain produce naturally occurring brain rhythms, resulting in a decrease in lower back pain.
What are Brain Rhythms?
Scientists have known for some time that brain rhythms (more commonly referred to as brain waves) exist. They are rhythmic fluctuations of electrical activity in the brain—thought to be reflective of the brain’s state (such as sleeping, consciousness, etc.)
Brain rhythms are thought to modulate various brain activities, such as perception and consciousness; they can be measured and are classified as various types of brainwaves—such as alpha, gamma and theta waves. Each type of brain wave is active during various activities. For example, during sleep, theta waves are dominant; they also prevail during deep meditation.
In trying to visualize what brain rhythms are, it may help to visualize brainwaves as musical instruments. The low frequency waves act as though they are a deeply penetrating drum beat; while the higher frequency brainwaves could be compared to a high-pitched flute.
The Study Findings
The results of the study indicate that medical professionals may be able to target certain areas of the brain with new non-invasive (non-surgical) technology, to boost brainwaves and help treat chronic pain. The treatment strategy is called transcranial alternating current stimulation, or tACS.
According to lead study author, Flavio Frohlich, PhD, director of the Carolina Center for Neurostimulation and associate professor of psychiatry, “We’ve published numerous brain stimulation papers over several years, and we always learn something important. But this is the first time we’ve studied chronic pain, and this is the only time all three elements of a study lined up perfectly. We successfully targeted a specific brain region, we enhanced or restored that region’s activity, and we correlated that enhancement with a significant decrease in symptoms.”
The discovery could lead to a much needed solution for people with chronic pain, who take addictive drugs like opioids. According to Co-author Julianna Prim, “If brain stimulation can help people with chronic pain, it would be a cheap, non-invasive therapy that could reduce the burden of opioids, which we all know can have severe side effects.”
The Journal of Pain