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Brainwave Study Pinpoints Pain in the Brain

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A state-of-the-art University of Essex study has developed a new scientific approach to understanding how pain is generated in the brain. 

The research led by Dr Elia Valentini focused on studying a potential indicator of pain - the oscillation in the alpha band.

These important brain waves fall in the middle of the spectrum and are generated as people take on day-to-day tasks.   

Dr Valentini developed a new method of studying how these waves change under stress and pain. 

As part of the study, 36 healthy volunteers were tested with an electroencephalogram (EEG) and electrical brain activity was recorded from different parts of their heads. 

They had five-minute sessions of rest, painful hot water immersion, warm water and an unpleasant sound listening.

By studying brainwaves the team was able to pinpoint differences between heat, pain, and unpleasant sound.

Dr Valentini and his colleagues identified specific parts of the head where the alpha waves slowed down during pain. 

Dr Valentini, from the Department of Psychology, said: “We made a critical study that addressed the important issue of sensitivity and specificity of pain biomarkers, which is a crucial methodological question to develop novel treatment for people suffering from chronic pain.” 

The research and advanced data analysis allowed the team to produce an accurate picture of alpha oscillations during pain. 

It is hoped the study – published in NeuroImage - will pave the way for further research which could lead to a better understanding of how pain is generated within the brain.

Dr Valentini now hopes to expand upon this research with even more advanced data analysis and experiments – to discover more about alpha waves and pain.

Reference: Valentini E, Halder S, McInnerney D, Cooke J, Gyimes IL, Romei V. Assessing the specificity of the relationship between brain alpha oscillations and tonic pain. NeuroImage. 2022;255:119143. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2022.119143

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