One in five Australians experience chronic pain serious enough to disable them, costing the country approximately $35 billion a year. People who experience chronic pain (pain that continues for more than three months) often struggle to find effective treatment, and can experience disability and even depression.
We are conducting research into the nature of chronic pain, looking at the role of our brain in the experience of persistent pain, and changes in the central nervous system that may also occur.
We are also investigating why some people develop excessive pain in response to injury, developing a disorder called Complex Regional Pain Syndrome.
Sensory relearning project
The Moseley Group is conducting research into a new treatment for chronic pain aimed at correcting problems in how the brain processes sensory information.
Based on recent research that suggests that changes in the brain are linked to the experience of pain, this novel therapy uses brain training techniques to treat chronic pain.
People with chronic pain often experience peculiar symptoms, for example they lose the ability to clearly pinpoint and recognise the sense of touch on their body.
In this technique, called ‘sensory relearning’, patients are touched with an object, for example a wine cork, and are asked whether they recognise the object, where on their body they are being touched and how many times.
The hope is that this type of training will ‘retune’ the brain and, in turn, diminish pain. The team has currently conducting a clinical trial to test the efficacy of this technique.
Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) project
For reasons as yet unknown, a small percentage of people who experience a physically traumatic event, often a wrist fracture, develop a condition called Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS). Their painful limb may swell, sweat, become red and hot and immobile, and in the longer term they may develop localised osteoporosis. Symptoms can last many months or even years.
About 5000 Australians are newly diagnosed with CRPS every year, and in any given year, about 22,000 Australians will suffer from CRPS. CRPS is three times more common in females than in males.
The Moseley Group is currently conducting a study of 1000 people with wrist fractures to test the hypothesis that an excessive inflammatory response in the first two weeks after injury triggers the development of this syndrome.
The team is measuring immune and stress response markers in the blood and other indicators of stress such as depression and anxiety. They are also using functional MRI to look for changes in areas of the brain (the primary sensory cortex) associated with representation of the injured limb.
If we are able to identify a dysfunctional inflammatory response in people who develop this CRPS, as well as when these changes occur, we might be able to understand how it develops and how we might prevent it. Because this syndrome shares many characteristics with other pathological pain disorders such as chronic back pain and phantom limb pain, our research will hopefully raise new avenues for investigation of those disorders too.