Erasing the pain memory
Chronic lower back pain is a huge social problem. Master’s student Félix Buyck, supervised by Prof Dr Maarten Moens and the STIMULUS research group of the Neurosurgery department of the UZ Brussel, investigated the effects of spinal cord stimulation on the brain. This is a treatment in which small electric currents, unnoticeable to the patient, are administered to the spinal cord to treat chronic pain.
The spinal cord connects all the nerves of the body with the brain, and prolonged pain can lead to changes in the brain structure. These include an enlargement of the area of the brain called the hippocampus. It appears that treatment with spinal cord stimulation causes the hippocampus to shrink again. This could cause the ‘pain memory’ to be erased: if their brain ‘thinks’ less about pain, people also experience less pain. The brain, as this thesis shows, clearly opens a door to better pain therapy for patients with chronic lower back pain.