Ouch! Seeing pain could actually cause it

The brains of people with of complex region pain syndrome respond in the same way to seeing pain as feeling it.

30th November 2016
Ouch! Seeing pain could actually cause it © Jaakko Hotta/Aalto University

Hand movement videos were shown to CRPS patients and to a control group © Jaakko Hotta/Aalto University

Ever get that hideous feeling in your guts when you see get to the gory bit in a horror movie? It’s not a great feeling, but when you’re relaxing in front of Nightmare on Elm Street this is half the fun. But a new study has found that for sufferers of complex pain syndrome, watching other people in pain can severely aggravate their own.

Complex region pain syndrome (CRPS) is a poorly understood condition where someone feels constant and debilitating pain in a region of their body, and the effects can last for years. Usually the result of an injury, NHS Direct claims that up to 1 in 3,800 people develop CRPS every year.

The new study, developed by researchers in Aalto University, Finland and published in the Journal of Pain, have discovered that the brain of CRPS patients reacts in the same way to watching someone go through pain as when the patient does.

The team took brain scans of 13 CRPS patients and 13 healthy control subjects while watching videos of people doing painful actions, such as squeezing a spiked ball. The brain patterns in the CRPS patients watching the videos showed similarities to brain patterns when the patient is in pain.

Patients suffering from CRPS may feel pain and show abnormal brain activations while watching a hand actions © Jaakko Hotta/Aalto University
Patients suffering from CRPS may feel pain and show abnormal brain activations while watching a hand actions © Jaakko Hotta/Aalto University

“CPRS is a very complex disease with devastating chronic pain,” says neurologist Jaakko Hotta, Doctoral Candidate at Aalto University. “Its pathophysiology is incompletely understood and definitive biomarkers are lacking. Our discovery may help to develop diagnostics and therapeutic strategies for CRPS patients.”

So next time you see someone cry out in agony, spare a thought for those who genuinely do share their pain.

 


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