Features January 2010 Issue

A Busy Brain May Combat Chronic Pain

Shift your focus from pain to other activities to better cope with your discomfort and improve your quality of life.

A combat soldier runs a half-mile through the jungle before realizing he’s been shot. A quarterback crosses the goal line, unaware that he sprained his ankle some 30 yards before. Edward Covington, MD, suffering from a painful foot, lectures for an hour before a large group of people, then realizes that he had no pain during his talk. All three examples, to varying degrees, demonstrate what scientists have come to realize for several decades: Pain is not only a sensory experience, but also an emotional one, and the brain has the ability to attenuate pain as well as amplify it. Focusing your attention on something other than your pain may help you function better and regain some of what you’ve lost to your condition.

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