Thursday, January 17, 2008

Pain Relief

I've had a "monkey mind" kind of day today. That's where your brain races around from one idea to another and focusing on one thing at a time has been difficult, so I hope you can understand this post.

I went to an information session about neuropathic pain last night. To be honest there was nothing much new to me at this session but you never know until you go if it's going to be beneficial or not.

I did pick up a few bits of info on the topic that are interesting. Before I get into those, though, I'll just go over the basics of how I deal with my pain. Heat and sometimes activity. Activity, or exercise, and heat provide a distraction from the pain. It doesn't completely relieve it. And that was one thing I took away from last night's session. A lot of pain may not be relieved, but it can be managed.

The doc doing the session, Dr. Ian Beauprie, is affiliated with Dalhousie, the QE2 Hospital, and the Brain Repair Centre. He entertained questions after the session of course and my question had to do with Deep Brain Stimulation. I am not considering getting this done (I'm not that bad, pain wise) but the topic is fascinating.

As the doc explained, Dr. Penfield pioneered brain surgery, mapping the brain, and coming up with surgical techniques to relieve epilepsy. He and his colleagues thought that by excising the part of the brain corresponding to the pained part of the body would relieve the pain. What they discovered was that the body still felt pain, just not in the corresponding part of the body. The person couldn't locate the pain. It was just "there". Electrically stimulating the part of the brain that corresponded to the pained body part didn't relieve the pain either; in fact it sometimes made it worse.

In the course of his work, and while mapping the cortices of the brain, Dr. Penfield also discovered something unexpected. By electrically stimulating the motor cortex, the parts of the brain responsible for planning, control, and execution of voluntary motor actions, pain in specific area could be relieved; ie, if the pain is in your hand, by stimulating the area of the motor cortex responsible for moving your hand, the pain can be relieved.

A light went on. Activity can relieve some of my pain, by being active I am stimulating my motor cortex, which in turn is relieving my pain. The doc said he and colleagues are currently studying this phenomenom.

So how does this translate for others suffering neuropathic pain? Get active. I don't care if you're in a wheelchair, bedridden, or mobile. Get moving. Can only lift one arm? Lift it. Can only wiggle your toes? Wiggle 'em. Hypothetically, physiotherapy involving passive movement (where someone moves your limbs for you) should also help you. But don't quote me on that. I have to do some more research. Something else to consider is visualization. By thinking about specific movements, you might be able to simulate corresponding areas of your brain, and that may relieve pain. Again, I have to do some more research on this, but it doesn't cost anything to try it yourself.

The brain is such a magnificent, complex organ. And mysterious. And amazing. And cool. Electricity and chemicals making us do stuff, allowing us to do stuff, suggesting things to us. I feel frustrated sometimes, knowing that I'll never completely understand this pulsating 3 pounds of white and grey matter in my head. I wonder if even neurosurgeons feel frustrated too?


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