How much does that question piss you off?
Researchers from the US claim that they have evidence that pain may leave a distinct ‘signature’ in the brain that can be ‘seen’ with specialised MRI scans. When researchers exposed healthy volunteers to a painful dose of heat, it left a reliable pattern of brain activity that could be viewed on functional MRI (fMRI) – a type of imaging that charts changes in blood flow through the brain.
This ‘signature’ was able to predict people’s subjective pain ratings with more than 90 per cent accuracy, and it distinguished heat-induced pain from other feelings, like warmth and emotional pain. However the study looked only at short-term pain in healthy people.
And, unfortunately, earlier research has shown that brief “experimental pain” in volunteers is very different to chronic pain in patients thus the neuro-signature is different.
But, an Australian study, led by Professors Philip Siddall and Michael Cousins in 2006, identified key brain areas associated with chronic lower back pain and compared these findings with the brain of people with no back pain using MRI and MRS (which shows biochemical changes in the brain). This study reported that the brains of patients with low back pain could be distinguished from those without pain with an accuracy of more than 97 per cent. A later study by the same group made similar findings in people with spinal cord injury and neuropathic pain (nerve damage pain).
These findings suggest that there may be a way to objectively measure our pain objectively, rather than using the current subjective method of asking patients to rate their pain on a scale from one to 10.
We may never have to hear that question ever again!