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Stanford Medicine

Pain, Podcasts

Oh what a pain

Melanie Thernstron has written a wonderful book about pain. I know it sounds oxymoronic, pain and wonderful. Yet The Pain Chronicles is a sharp and fascinating journey through the cures, myths, mysteries, healing and science of suffering. Anyone who has experienced chronic pain – and that’s millions of us – will find a soul mate somewhere in Thernstrom’s prose.

Thernstrom writes that in ancient times pain was a spiritual signifier coming from the realm of demons and deities. It wasn’t until the 19th century that the modern conception emerged and pain was seen simply as a biological phenomenon that indicated tissue damage.

Thernstrom began her own bout with chronic pain nearly 20 years ago. And in the ensuing years it’s been her constant companion. She writes about how chronic pain transforms the brain as it atrophies the grey matter – the parts of the brain that are associated with cognition. She believes that we’re in the midst of a paradigm shift in thinking about and treating pain. And that we’re on the verge of a more enlightented approach to pain that will banish the notion that pain is all in your head or that it shouldn’t be dealt with agressively. Unfortunately, most cultures still carry around the archaic notion that pain is something that we human beings have to endure in this life on earth.

In this latest 1:2:1 podcast, I talk with Thernstrom about her own pain and new treatments like the one that Stanford’s Sean Mackey, MD, PhD, is pioneering – using imaging to identify the mechanisms in the brain generating pain and learning how to activate the system to dampen it. On the back cover of the book, author Alice Sebold writes,”Chronic pain is the Wild West of medicine.”

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