Touch Can Lessen the Brain's Feedback to Pain Stimuli

An act of touch can help reduce your brain's response to painful stimuli, as the brain's pain-receptive neurons diminish when neurons acquire a sensation of touch. If you have a headache, merely touching your temples can alleviate the pain, or if you bump your knees on the side of the couch, simply massaging the affected area can bring relaxation.

We often bump our knees on the corner of the bed or even bump our heads into a wall while looking down at our cell phones. When such pain encounters, merely touching the affected area can diminish pain and soothe the ache deriving from an unexpected thump. Neuroscientists at MIT's McGovern Institute found that a simple touch can help alleviate physical pain allowing pain-responsive cells in the brain to allay.

Research to perceive how our brains react to painful stimuli

Previous study has revealed that touch-oriented pain comfort starts in the spinal cord, where pain-responsive neurons are diminished through physical touch. With further research, however, it has come to our attention that the brain is actually involved in the process as well.

Fan Wang, MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research investigator, said the brain facet has not been broadly identified since it can be difficult to detect its reaction to painful stimuli amongst other neural endeavors occurring.

The research team found that when mice were given painful catalysts on the cheeks, they wiped their faces with their paws. Despite this action, they couldn't thoroughly find out the exact pain reaction occurring in their brains to see if physical touch indeed diminished the pain.

“If you look at the brain when an animal is rubbing the face, movement and touch signals completely overwhelm any possible pain signal,” Wang explains. To advance the study of the animals' brains, the research team concentrated on tender quivers happening on their whiskers. Mice utilize their whiskers as a method to display touch receptors and bring information to the brain as vibrotactile signals. It's similar to when humans unconsciously put away their hands when touching a hot surface.

How touch can potentially alleviate pain

The research team established that the mouse's whisker motion does change when they touch their faces with their paws. “When the unpleasant stimuli were applied in the presence of their self-generated vibrotactile whisking… they respond much less,” said Wang.

Animal whisking refers to the process of animals repetitively sweeping their whiskers back and forth. Oftentimes, whisking animals completely disregard the painful stimuli. Our brain's somatosensory cortex processes touch and pain signals, and the team instituted signaling adjustment behind the result.

“The cells that preferentially respond to heat and poking are less frequently activated when the mice are whisking,” said Wang. “They’re less likely to show responses to painful stimuli.” When whisking animals rubbed their paws on their faces to cope with pain, it took the brain's neurons more time to associate the two.

“When there is pain stimulation, usually the trajectory of the population dynamics quickly moves to wiping. But if you already have whisking, that takes much longer,” continued Wang.

The effects of whisking on pain signals appear to be dependent on specialized touch-processing circuitry, which routes tactile information from a brain region known as the ventral posterior thalamus to the somatosensory cortex. When the team obstructed that channel, the animals' reaction to painful stimuli was no longer muted by the process of whisking. The research team is now keen to discover how the circuitry process interacts with other brain regions to control discernment and reaction to pain catalysts.

How the research can help medical conditions, including thalamic pain syndrome

New research is always appreciative in the medical field, as many individuals struggling with various symptoms and diseases can benefit greatly from all research. This new research is a light to many medical conditions, including thalamic pain syndrome.

Thalamic pain syndrome follows a cerebrovascular accident, and often causes hyperalgesia and allodynia. follows a cerebrovascular accident, and often causes hyperalgesia and allodynia. It is a painful disorder that derives from disruptions of pathways of the brain affecting the temperature.

“Such strokes may impair the functions of thalamic circuits that normally relay pure touch signals and dampen painful signals to the cortex,” said Wang.

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