Brain training technique ‘retunes’ brain, reduces pain

Researchers have found that a new treatment aimed at correcting problems in how the brain processes sensory information can reduce pain and disability.

Dr Lorimer Moseley and Dr James McAuley from Neuroscience Research Australia were awarded funding over 4 years by the National Health and Medical Research Council today to refine and test their novel therapy, which uses brain training techniques to treat chronic pain.

Recent research suggests that in chronic pain, changes are occurring in the brain that are linked to the experience of pain.

“This raises the possibility that we can avoid drugs and devices and train the brain to overcome these problems,” says Dr Moseley.

1 in 5 Australians experience chronic pain serious enough to disable them, costing the country approximately $35 billion a year.

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.

“These and other neurological symptoms are more commonly associated with stroke and have only recently been identified in chronic pain sufferers,” says Dr Moseley.

Dr Moseley and colleagues are developing a technique called ‘sensory relearning’, where 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.

“It may sound simple, but many people with chronic pain have lost the ability to clearly distinguish these sensations. We hope that this type of simple and easy training will ‘retune’ the brain and, in turn, diminish their pain. So far we have encouraging preliminary results,” says Dr Moseley.

The team is currently performing critical experiments to improve the technique in preparation for a clinical trial.

“Treatments for chronic pain are notoriously hit and miss. With this technique, the beauty may be in its simplicity,” says Dr Moseley.