Chronic pain


Understanding how the brain is involved in chronic pain


About our research

Sensory relearning project

The McAuley 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 is 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 and McAuley Groups are currently conducting a study of people with CRPS using functional MRI to look for changes in areas of the brain (the primary sensory cortex) associated with representation of the injured limb. The common theory is that the area of brain that represents the limb (the ‘cortical real estate’) shrinks. However, we recently proved that is wrong. We are now working together with collaborators at University College London to identify how the representation changes and what implications this might have for preventing the disorder.

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