Between 20 and 50% of the world population suffers from chronic pain. Chronic pain, as the name suggests, is persistent, even if at some stage it becomes acute.
But even if is a very common problem, there are not many treatments that can provide the relief of which these people need. Now scientists at the University of Manchester have discovered that if the brain is “tuned” to a specific frequency, it is possible to relieve pain.
Brain waves against pain
The nerve cells of the brain surface are coordinated with each other in a specific frequency, depending on the state of brain activation. In fact, a previous study conducted at the University of Oxford found that the intensity of the pain can be identified through the neural signals.
These researchers found that some cells of the brain that show a binary response to pain; that is, which are activated only in the presence of painful stimuli, when we don’t feel pain remain “inactive”. When we feel pain these cells are activated, which “tune” on low frequency waves. And the more the pain is intense, the greater the duration of these waves.
In particular the alpha waves, which are tuned to 12 cycles per second, have been associated with the activation of the brain areas associated with control and it was appreciated that are able to influence the operation of other areas of the brain. In fact, the alpha waves of the frontal zone are connected to the feeling of anesthesia caused from the placebo effect. So neuroscientists wondered whether “tuning” the brain because it emits alpha waves could reduce pain.
The interesting thing is that you can “tune” the brain simply by using glasses that emit flashes of light or acoustic devices that emit sounds in both ears at the same frequency. Both the visual stimulation and the auditory reduce the intensity of pain, this occurred by applying small pain stimuli on the arm of those who participated in the experiment.
What are brain waves?
At the base of our emotions, thoughts and behaviors there is the communication between neurons. The brain waves are produced by the synchronization of electrical impulses sent by sets of neurons to communicate with each other.
When slow waves are produced we feel tired, we’re about to fall asleep or we experience a state of relaxation. Conversely, the higher frequencies dominate when we are awake and active.
The alpha waves, in particular, will originate mainly in the occipital lobe and are dominant in the state of relaxation and meditation, when the brain remains at rest, but is not completely disconnected from the environment. Maybe that’s why other studies have revealed that meditation helps to relieve pain.
Ecsy, K. et. Al. (2016) Alpha-Range Visual and Auditory Stimulation reduces the Perception of Pain. European Journal of Pain.
Smith, K. (2007) Brain waves reveal intensity of pain. Neural signal offers objective measure of subjective experience. Nature; 450: 329.