Dana Alliance member Beverley Greenwood-Van Meerveld, Ph.D., director of the Oklahoma Center for Neuroscience and Presbyterian Health Foundation Chair in Neurosciences at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, is as active in the community as she is in the lab, where she studies the connection between visceral pain—a dull, generalized pain emanating from internal organs—and anxiety. “I investigate how stress affects the gastrointestinal tract,” Greenwood-Van Meerveld says. “Drilling it down further, I’m asking the how early life stresses contribute to belly pain in adults.”
Laura Case and her colleagues at the University of San Diego are building on V.S. Ramanchandran’s work with mirrors and pain relief to see if arthritis patients can benefit from mirror therapy.
Dr. Case spoke yesterday at a Society for Neuroscience press conference.
In mirror therapy, a patient places a healthy hand (or leg or other body part) in front of a mirror. The patient sees the reflection of the healthy body part in place of the other, painful limb. Past research indicates that a series of mirror therapy sessions can cause pain to subside for long periods of time, something that has thus far been especially beneficial for people with amputations suffering from phantom limb pain.
Dr. Case’s small proof-of-concept study looked at whether eight people with osteo and/or rheumatoid arthritis could benefit from mirror therapy. Study subjects viewed a reflection of an experimenter’s healthy hand, then mimicked the slow, flexing hand movements of the healthy hand with their arthritic hand for one minute at a time.
“The moving healthy hand creates the illusion that the arthritic hand is moving without pain,” said Dr. Case. She hypothesized that seeing a hand with a greater range of motion might alter the brain’s visual mapping feedback.
The mirror therapy reduced pain 1.5 to 3 points on a 10-point pain scale.
Dr. Case plans to study this therapy with a larger number of subjects. She also plans to look into whether mirror box therapy could have long-term results for people with arthritis.
At one session at a forum put on by One Mind for Research in Boston last spring, researchers described progress in treating the invisible wounds sustained by the brain, including post-traumatic stress disorder, concussions, and chronic pain (see earlier post: "Targeting the Effects of War on the Brain"). I learned a lot at the forum, but one comment by presenter Clifford J. Woolf, director of the program in neurobiology at Children's Hospital Boston, especially jumped out at me.
While we have made enormous progress in promoting survival after injury and great advances in rehabilitation, he said, "in fact an area that has really lagged behind relates to the pain associated with combat injury." I wanted to know more: Where are we in our ability to identify and treat this very common but frustratingly individual ailment?
I assigned reporter and author Kayt Sukel to investigate further. We've just posted her story "Is the Neuroscientific Study of Pain Lagging?" Short answer: We have been stuck but now with new tools we might tease out some answers sooner rather than later. Find out more at www.dana.org.