Strange Technique to Treat Chronic Pain Shows Promise in University Study

Strange Technique to Treat Chronic Pain Shows Promise in University Study

While the following article may have you raising your eyebrows at first, bear with us: An intriguing new university study, recently published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Neural Engineering, has raised the possibility that chronic pain could be managed by electrically stimulating the body at the same time as listening to certain sound waves.

The surprising results came from a trial involving guinea pigs, however human trials are now being planned by scientists from the University of Minnesota in the United States, in the hope it could lead to a safe, non-drug, non-invasive treatment for chronic pain.

As part of the trial, different parts of the guinea pigs’ bodies were electrically stimulated at the same time as broadband sounds (sound that covers a wide section of the audible range), were played, and the effect on the animal’s brains was monitored.

The scientists found that specific neurons in the brain’s somatosensory cortex (SC) ‘lit up’ in response to the combined sound and electrical stimulation. Why is this important? The somatosensory cortex is the primary receiver of all bodily sensation, including pain.

The researchers first started exploring the idea that this technique might have an effect on pain after previous studies found that concurrent auditory and electrical stimulation proved an effective treatment for tinnitus. As tinnitus is a condition associated with the somatosensory pathway, they hypothesized that a similar concurrent stimulation might also help modulate pain.

“…both tinnitus and chronic pain have been linked to hyperactivity or alterations in coding across the auditory or SC (somatosensory cortex) respectively…”

According to the authors of the study, “The ability to systematically alter firing properties across neurons in these sensory cortices by using paired sensory stimulation with varying delays may prove to be an effective approach to disrupt or adjust the abnormal firing patterns driving the debilitating symptoms of neuropathic conditions for an improved quality of life.”

The authors are quick to point out that the results of their study do not prove the efficiency of this technique for the treatment of chronic pain and that more research and trials need to be conducted in the area.

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