A University of South Australia study released today shows pain can be triggered even when the body is fine, if the body has learnt to associate pain with a particular action.
The phenomenon, known as classical conditioning, means a person who has had a back injury may continue to experience pain when they bend forward – even after the injury has healed.
Leading researcher Professor Lorimer Moseley said this breakthrough meant some people’s pain could be relieved if the mental associations causing their discomfort were carefully broken.
One in five Australians experiences chronic pain, including children and teens.
“This research takes us one step closer to a potentially transformative discovery – that an important reason your brain protects you by producing pain when the tissues are not actually in danger – may lie in sensory pathways that are very trainable,” Prof Moseley said.
“This development in our understanding of pain and how it can be learnt takes a significant step towards better prevention and treatment of persistent pain and may end up leading to new treatments altogether.”
The study, led by PhD student Tory Madden with Prof Moseley, will soon be published in the Journal of Pain, the official journal of the American Pain Society.
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