|Pain is a very common disabling condition. It consists of physical, psychological, social, emotional, and cultural contributors. This complex interaction of several factors makes pain unique to each individual and therefore, challenging to treat. The International Association for the Study of Pain defines pain as “an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with, or resembling that associated with, actual or potential tissue damage”.
Pain is historically linked to protection and safety. It is a perception that occurs in response to what the brain judges to be a threatening situation. To evaluate potential threats, the brain uses information from the body, along with previous beliefs and memories. In this way, pain is a protective response that can trigger useful changes in behaviour that protect from tissue damage or limit further harm. However, for some people, when pain persists for longer than usual healing time, pain does not perform a useful function. This is thought to be driven by unhelpful adaptations in the pain producing system (e.g. brain).
Pain can be categorised depending on how long it persists. Acute pain lasts for a short time (less than 3 months) and typically occurs following injury or surgery. Chronic pain is pain that continues beyond expected tissue healing time (usually 3 months) even after injured tissues are healed.
The Centre for Pain IMPACT at NeuRA conducts research on a range of different pain conditions to understand the mechanisms of pain and to improve pain management. The Centre for Pain IMPACT has conducted several groundbreaking pain research projects which numerous clinical practice guidelines have endorsed internationally. Our current projects are listed below.
To learn more about MEMOIR please visit our new website memoir.neura.edu.au
Researchers: A/Prof Sylvia Gustin, Dr Negin Hesam-Shariati, Dr Wei-Ju Chang, A/Prof James McAuley, Dr Andrew Booth, A/Prof Toby Newton-John, Prof Chin-Teng Lin, A/Prof Zina Trost
Chronic pain is a global health problem, affecting around one in five individuals in the general population. The understanding of the key role of functional brain alterations in the generation of chronic pain has led researchers to focus on pain treatments that target brain activity. Electroencephalographic (EEG) neurofeedback attempts to modulate the power of maladaptive EEG frequency powers to decrease chronic pain. Although several studies provide promising evidence, the effect of EEG neurofeedback on chronic pain is uncertain. This systematic review aims to synthesise the evidence from randomised controlled trials (RCTs) to evaluate the analgesic effect of EEG neurofeedback.
The search strategy will be performed on five electronic databases (Cochrane Central, MEDLINE, Embase, PsycInfo, and CINAHL) for published studies and on clinical trial registries for completed unpublished studies. We will include studies that used EEG neurofeedback as an intervention for people with chronic pain. Risk of bias tools will be used to assess methodological quality of the included studies. RCTs will be included if they have compared EEG neurofeedback with any other intervention or placebo control. The data from RCTs will be aggregated to perform a meta-analysis for quantitative synthesis. In addition, non-randomised studies will be included for a narrative synthesis. The data from non-randomised studies will be extracted and summarised in a descriptive table. The primary outcome measure is pain intensity assessed by self-report scales. Secondary outcome measures include depressive symptoms, anxiety symptoms, and sleep quality measured by self-reported questionnaires. Further, we will investigate the non-randomised studies for additional outcomes addressing safety, feasibility, and resting-state EEG analysis.
Pain is the single most common reason for seeking medical attention. Under normal circumstances, pain acts to signal injury and is a protective response that prevents further damage and promotes tissue healing. People differ not only in their ability to detect and tolerate pain, but also in their ability to recover from an injury, with some people experiencing pain that outlasts the duration of tissue healing. Interventions to treat or cure chronic pain have had limited success.
Recent research has identified a novel cortical biomarker that could identify individuals at risk of developing chronic pain, which could be used to identify individuals at high risk of transitioning from acute to chronic pain (PREDICT project). However, whether a causal relationship exists between this cortical biomarker and pain is unknown.
The pain biomarker is based on rhythmic patterns of electrical activity in the brain and is measured using electroencephalography (EEG). Previous research suggests that the speed of this rhythmic activity can be altered through the administration of nicotine. MODULATE will attempt to alter the speed of the brain’s rhythmic activity, using nicotine gum, and observe the impact on pain. The project will help determine whether a causal relationship exists between the biomarker and pain.
Temporomandibular disorder (TMD) is the second most common musculoskeletal pain condition and is associated with pain and tenderness of the jaw. Although a number of biological factors have shown an association with chronic TMD in cross-sectional and case control studies, there are currently no biomarkers that can predict the development of chronic symptoms. Because of the difficulty in treating chronic pain, development of brain signal predictive biomarkers is of growing interest.
The PREDICT project will aim to develop a predictive biomarker signature of pain severity and duration using two commonly available techniques – electroencephalogram (EEG) and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) – and perform initial clinical validation in first onset TMD. The biomarker could have utility in identifying patients at high risk of transitioning from acute to chronic pain and has additional potential for clinical application in the treatment and prevention of chronic pain.
This project will be carried out in collaboration with a team at the University of Maryland, Baltimore lead by A/Prof David Seminowicz (see more information here).
Seminowicz DA, Bilska K, Chowdhury NS, Skippen P, Millard SK, Chiang A, Chen S, Furman AJ, & Schabrun SM. (2020). A novel cortical biomarker signature for predicting pain sensitivity: protocol for the PREDICT longitudinal analytical validation study. Pain Reports, 5(4), e833. doi: 10.1097/PR9.0000000000000833
Researchers: Associate Professor Sylvia Gustin, Nell-Norman-Nott, Dr Negin Hesam- Shariati, Dr. Chelsey Wilks (University of Washington).
Emerging evidence has shown that negative emotional states play a key role in the development and maintenance of chronic pain. The No Worries Trial will evaluate the effectiveness of a four-week internet-delivered Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) skills training to help chronic pain sufferers cope with painful, fearful, worrisome, anxious, and negative thoughts and emotions. Moreover, by having the DBT skills training online it is more accessible to those in remote communities, to those with restricted mobility, and more broadly it adds to the knowledge of internet-delivered therapies at a time when online is increasingly necessary to deliver treatment due to COVID-19.
Chronic neuropathic pain (NP) can be a debilitating secondary condition for persons with spinal cord injury (SCI) and effective pharmacological and non-pharmacological treatments remain elusive. This project brings together international experts in basic science and clinical approaches to SCI NP for a rigorous multisite randomized clinical trial to examine the efficacy and mechanisms of an advanced interactive virtual reality (VR) walking intervention (VRWalk).
Low back pain (LBP) is ranked as the top single cause of disability worldwide. Costs have risen faster than for any other health condition and LBP is now equal to ischemic heart disease, and second only to cancer, as the costliest health condition. Approximately 40% of people who experience acute LBP develop chronic pain. These individuals are unresponsive to treatment, experience high levels of pain, struggle to perform daily tasks and frequently develop psychosocial comorbidities. The enormous scale of the problem is matched only by the mystery that accompanies it: despite decades of research, why some people develop chronic LBP while others do not, remains unknown.
The identification of biomarkers that can predict who will develop chronic LBP is a holy grail of pain research. Our new research has uncovered evidence for a unique biomarker signature that appears to predict i) an individual’s susceptibility to high pain severity, even before pain begins and ii) an individual’s susceptibility to developing chronic LBP following an acute episode. These biomarkers are now undergoing detailed investigation in on-going studies.
People in pain move differently. Yet, the biological basis for altered movement in pain is poorly understood. This lack of understanding has led to treatments for persistent pain that target generic symptoms with limited effect. This NHMRC-funded trial is the first to examine how different aspects of the nervous system are altered in pain and how this relates to movement. This information will guide the development of new treatment strategies for persistent pain in future.
Persistent musculoskeletal pain is one of the most significant health issues in the developed world. Termed a ‘Western epidemic’, low back pain is the most common form of persistent musculoskeletal pain and a leading cause of suffering and disability. Despite the enormity of the problem, many current therapies target generic symptoms, not underlying mechanisms, with limited effect. In 2010, the Australian National Pain Summit concluded ‘the management of pain is shockingly inadequate’. This assessment is not surprising given that critical information on the biological changes that underpin persistent low back pain is lacking. The UPWaRD study is a 5-year NHMRC-funded trial that investigates the role of brain plasticity, along with biological changes in the spinal cord, hormonal changes, genetics and stress, in the development of persistent low back pain.
Medicines are the most common treatment for back pain. The aim of this program of research is to improve our understanding of the clinical effects of medicines.
Studies currently in progress:
Medicines for Back Pain – Publications:
Medicines for Back Pain – Registrations of Study Protocols:
Social media is a potentially powerful tool to provide a message of education and reassurance to the general public about low back pain. This project will use social media to educate the general public about low back pain and promote self-management.
The project involves three stages. Firstly, we will conduct a content analysis to gain an insight into social media users’ perceptions and understanding about low back pain. This could determine whether social media could serve as an educational tool through which accurate information related to low back pain could be disseminated to the public.
Second, a recent Delphi survey of 150 low back pain researchers identified 30 key messages considered to be important for the general public to know about LBP. These statements provide evidence-based information on the diagnosis, prognosis and management of LBP and are intended to educate, reassure and promote self-management. We will investigate the attitude of the general public towards these messages.
Third, working in conjunction with a media company Y&R, we will design and test a social media campaign to encourage self-management for people with low back pain.
Chronic pain, defined as pain lasting for >3 months, typically develops from injuries to deep tissues such as muscle, yet little is known about how long-lasting pain affects a person’s blood pressure or capacity to control their muscles. This project assesses the effects of tonic muscle pain on sympathetic nerve activity and stretch sensitivity of muscle spindles.
On August 11 2019, 54 people took on the City2Surf for Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA). The event is the world’s largest fun run with 80,000 participants taking on the 14km course, which stretches from Hyde Park in central Sydney to the iconic Bondi Beach. NeuRA thanks all of its fundraisers, who raised an incredible $30,903. This funding will further NeuRA’s […]