The Anatomy Of Pain [Discovery]


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Mystery still surrounds the experience of pain. It is highly subjective but why do some people feel more pain than others and why does the brain appear to switch off under anaesthesia so we are unaware of the surgeon's scalpel? Professor Irene Tracey uses brain scanners to ask if we can actually see pain in the brain. On air we hear for the first time the results of the latest research into diabetes and nerve pain. Promising new techniques means scientists are able to see regions in the brain which effectively turn up the pain in some people and not others.

Anaesthetics prevent pain during surgery but how the brain disengages is only just beginning to be understood, which could in the future lead to personalised doses of anaesthetics leading to faster recovery times.

Picture: Graphic of neurons firing in the of the neural network within the Brain, Credit: Science Photo Library

Why do some people feel more pain than others and what happens in the brain during surgery

Explorations in the world of science.

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Scientists reveal why we feel pain and the consequences of life without pain. One way to understand the experience of pain is to look at unusual situations which give clues to our everyday agony.

Phantom limb pain was described in ancient times but only after WWI did it gain acceptance in modern medicine. For those living with it, it can be a painful reminder of a lost limb. New studies are now unravelling why the brain generates this often unpleasant experience and how the messages can be used positively.

Its only since the 1980s that doctors agreed that babies are able to feel pain but we still don't know how the developing brain processes information and how premature babies can be protected from the many invasive tests they have to go through. New research aims to provide appropriate pain relief that could have long term consequences.

Picture: Nerve cells, computer artwork, Credit: Science Photo Library

Phantom limb pain, babies' pain, people without pain, help understand the nature of pain.

Explorations in the world of science.

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What if your brain could naturally control pain? Professor Irene Tracey and her colleagues are trying to unlock the natural mechanisms in the brain that limit the amount of pain we feel.

We hear about how children learning judo are taught special techniques and from ex-marine Chris Shirley who ran a marathon carrying a 45kg rucksack and could ignore the pain of the blisters and torn shoulder muscles.

One study found that religious people feel less pain than agnostics by looking at a picture of the Virgin Mary. Neuroscientists and psychologists are beginning to understand how this is possible, how the brain can block out pain in the right circumstances, so is this something we could all benefit from?

Picture: The statue of the Virgin Mary, Credit: Francisco Leong/AFP/Getty Images

Producer Geraldine Fitzgerald

How do brains control pain? Irene Tracey asks can we distance ourselves from agony

Explorations in the world of science.

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Does knowing that someone is inflicting pain on you deliberately make the pain worse? Professor Irene Tracey meets survivors of torture and examines the dark side of pain.

Producer: Geraldine Fitzgerald

(Photo: A woman mourns during the funeral procession of Abdulrassul Hujairi. Credit: Joseph Eid/AFP)

Explorations in the world of science.