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Good News: You may be able to “unlearn” chronic back pain

BY Alice Gawthrop

21st Sep 2022 Good News

Good News: You may be able to “unlearn” chronic back pain

Do you struggle with chronic back pain? Breakthroughs in neuroscience suggest it may be possible to change the way your brain processes pain

Pain is a vital survival mechanism, but sometimes it goes wrong. Chronic pain occurs when there is a poor correlation between pain and tissue damage. Research by Ipsos found that a quarter of UK adults report living with chronic pain. This may seem bleak, but there’s good news!

A new way of looking at pain

Breakthroughs in neuroscience have led to the development of Pain Reprocessing Therapy (PRT). PRT is an evidence-based approach for treating chronic pain which aims to “rewire neural pathways in the brain in order to deactivate pain”.

Patients are educated about pain and the pain-fear cycle, and encouraged to change their perception of pain through various exercises. 

Does it work?

A study in Boulder, Colorado, involving 151 patients with chronic back pain compared PRT to a control group. Two thirds of participants in the PRT group were pain free or nearly pain free by the end of the treatment, compared to 20 per cent of the control group. MRI scans of patients’ brains before and after the trial showed that PRT had changed how their brains were processing pain.

Speaking to DW, lead study author Yoni Ashar said, "We saw reduced activity in a number of pain processing brain regions, showing that this treatment changes the brain and changes how the brain processes pain.”

It’s worth noting that research of PRT is still in its early stages. Further studies are needed to assess the treatment, particularly in relation to other types of chronic pain.

Nonetheless, the results are promising thus far. James McAuley, a psychologist and professor at the University of New South Wales, puts it this way: "It does feel like we're on the cusp of a completely new way of thinking about and treating chronic pain.”

You can learn more about Pain Reprocessing Therapy here.

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