Cognitive penetration: nowhere or everywhere? Either way you should probably wear protection

Over the past three decades there has been growing consensus that our experiences are not isolated forms that emerge unscathed from the influences of our beliefs, motivations and desires. Rather, they are penetrated by these cognitive or so-called ‘top-down’ effects to the point where the traditional boundaries between cognition and perception are … [Read more...]

Long-term elbow pain: is the brain more at fault than the tendon?

Tennis elbow (known in medical terms as lateral epicondylalgia) is a common condition that presents with pain on the outer aspect of the elbow. Despite its name, the condition is not restricted to tennis players and can affect anyone performing repetitive movements of the forearm (manual labourers, typists etc). In fact, tennis elbow affects up to … [Read more...]

Body size of an embodied avatar modulates physiological response to pain

Nociceptive stimuli are processed through specific sensory pathways. Nonetheless, pain perception is highly subjective, and the amount of pain we feel depends on many things, including whether or not we are able to see the relevant body part. Indeed, looking at one’s own body reduces responses to pain, an effect known by the name “visual … [Read more...]

tDCS – the bigger picture

Last year I told you about a trial where we compared the brain’s activity during pain processing in the fMRI scanner before or after the application of an electrical brain stimulation technique (transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS)). The result was that there wasn’t much change after tDCS, hence we raised doubts that tDCS had an effect on … [Read more...]

Brain Image Biomarkers for Pain: Why should we?

Indulge me for a moment. Let’s say you just arrived at your physician’s office with a troubling symptom. She says “Hold on, I need to put you in the MRI to see if this symptom is pain, or if you are a pain patient.” There have been a number of scientific papers and popular press releases that suggest we need to replace self-report of pain … [Read more...]

Learn something novel every decade

Newly edited we first published this blog post in 2010 just after the new year, now the text is freely available (see reference at the end of the post).  This is another in our golden oldies series. Further evidence to suggest we should learn something novel every decade I remember sitting my folks down and sternly counselling them to make … [Read more...]

Chronic Pain: Lost Inhibition? PART TWO

In our last blog (Chronic Pain: Lost Inhibition?) we talked about the role of the thalamus in the development and maintenance of orofacial neuropathic pain. We reported that painful trigeminal neuropathic pain (PTN) is associated with altered thalamic anatomy, function and biochemistry, which may disturb central processing and play a key role in … [Read more...]

Directing Attention to Pain

Pain captures our attention instantaneously, and makes it hard to pay attention to anything else. But is it possible to direct attention to pain voluntarily and in a specific manner? Which brain mechanisms would drive voluntary direction of attention to pain? Why is this important? It is likely that chronic pain patients have exaggerated … [Read more...]

From Cue to Meaning

Sensory cues in our environment continuously guide processing in the brain. A simple touch, tone or a flash of light shapes our thought process countless numbers of times per day. In pain, cues leading to expectations of higher upcoming pain not only increase subjective pain ratings, but also increase the degree of activity in brain areas engaged … [Read more...]

Stability of conditioned pain modulation in patients with chronic pain: Implications for pain assessment & treatment

Over the past few decades, considerable evidence has accumulated indicating that pain may be modulated by a variety of endogenous pain-inhibitory processes. These operate at various levels of the central nervous system (CNS), and play a role in shaping the subjective experience of pain. Importantly, several lines of research suggest that … [Read more...]