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Training the brain to reject pain

Today's Portland Tribune has a feature on Beth Darnall, PhD, an Oregon Health & Science University pain researcher who uses mirror therapy and other unorthodox techniques to trick patients' brains into rejecting pain. It's fascinating stuff: Daily sessions involving staring at mirror images of two healthy limbs helped ease the pain of amputees with phantom limb pain in a study; ten out of 40 participants reported major pain reduction. It worked, Darnall explains in the piece, because the brain "had permanently reorganized itself to believe there was no reason to feel pain." And the beauty of the therapy, she says, is that "it's cheap, it has no side effects and no doctor’s prescription.”

Stanford's Sean Mackey, MD, PhD, who uses imaging techniques to help people control the areas of the brain that manage pain, also weighs in:

Work of researchers such as Darnall will be critical, Mackey says. He notes that a recent Institute of Medicine report on the state of pain found that 160 million Americans suffer from chronic pain — but there are only a few thousand pain specialists nationwide.

“Clearly there are not enough specialists to practice this,” Mackey says. “We have to translate this knowledge into information more people can use to self-manage their pain. That’s the only way we’re going to be effective.”

Previously: Using philosophy to create a vocabulary of pain, No pain, no gain. Not!, Relieving Pain in America: A new report from the Institute of Medicine, Stanford’s Sean Mackey discusses recent advances in pain research and treatment and Oh what a pain

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