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Treating Chronic Pain with Sound and Electrical Stimulation

Published: 2022-08-14 - Updated: 2023-01-04
Author: University of Minnesota | Contact: twin-cities.umn.edu
Peer-Reviewed Publication: Yes | DOI: https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1741-2552/ac7665
Additional References: Pain: Acute and Chronic Publications

Synopsis: Electrical stimulation and sound activate the brain's somatosensory or tactile cortex, increasing the potential for chronic pain and other sensory disorders treatment. The researchers hope their findings will lead to a treatment for chronic pain that's safer and more accessible than drug approaches. They plan to continue investigating this "multimodal" approach to treating different neurological conditions, potentially integrating music therapy in the future to see how they can further modify the somatosensory cortex.

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Definition

Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is classified as pain that lasts longer than three to six months. In medicine, the distinction between acute and chronic pain is sometimes determined by the amount of time since onset. Two commonly used markers are pain that continues at three months and six months since the beginning. Chronic pain may originate in the body or brain, or spinal cord. It is often difficult to treat. Epidemiological studies have found that 8 to 11.2% of people in various countries have widespread chronic pain. Chronic pain is one of the most costly health problems in the U.S. Increased medical expenses, lost income, lost productivity, compensation payments, and legal charges are some of the economic consequences of chronic pain. Pain Scale Chart: 1 to 10 Levels: Pain scale diagram and chart that includes an explanation of each of the one to ten classified pain levels.

Main Digest

Topographic and widespread auditory modulation of the somatosensory cortex: potential for bimodal sound and body stimulation for pain treatment.

A University of Minnesota Twin Cities-led team has found that electrical stimulation of the body combined with sound activates the brain's somatosensory or "tactile" cortex, increasing the potential for using the technique to treat chronic pain and other sensory disorders. The researchers tested the non-invasive technique on animals and are planning clinical trials on humans shortly.

Related Publications:

The paper is published in the Journal of Neural Engineering, a highly regarded, peer-reviewed scientific journal for the interdisciplinary field of neural engineering.

During the experiments, the researchers played broadband sound while electrically stimulating different body parts in guinea pigs. They found that the combination of the two activated neurons in the brain's somatosensory cortex, which is responsible for touch and pain sensations throughout the body.

While the researchers used needle stimulation in their experiments, one could achieve similar results using electrical stimulation devices, such as transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) units, which are widely available for anyone to buy at pharmacies and stores. The researchers hope their findings will lead to a treatment for chronic pain that's safer and more accessible than drug approaches.

"Chronic pain is a huge issue for a lot of people, and for most, it's not sufficiently treatable," said Cory Gloeckner, lead author on the paper, a 2017 Ph.D. alumnus of the University of Minnesota Twin Cities Department of Biomedical Engineering, and an assistant professor at John Carroll University.

"Right now, one of the ways that we try to treat pain are opioids, and we all know that doesn't work out well for many people. This, on the other hand, is a non-invasive, simple application. It's not some expensive medical device you must buy to treat pain. We think it would be available to anyone because of its low cost and simplicity."

A University of Minnesota Twin Cities-led team has found that electrical stimulation of the body combined with sound activates the brain’s somatosensory cortex, increasing the potential for using the technique to treat chronic pain and other sensory disorders - Image Credit: SONIC Lab, University of Minnesota.
A University of Minnesota Twin Cities-led team has found that electrical stimulation of the body combined with sound activates the brain’s somatosensory cortex, increasing the potential for using the technique to treat chronic pain and other sensory disorders - Image Credit: SONIC Lab, University of Minnesota.

The researchers plan to continue investigating this "multimodal" approach to treating different neurological conditions, potentially integrating music therapy in the future to see how they can further modify the somatosensory cortex.

"A lot of people have been using acupuncture or electrical stimulation - non-invasive or invasive - to try to alter brain activity for pain," said Hubert Lim, senior author of the paper and a professor in the University of Minnesota Twin Cities Department of Biomedical Engineering and Department of Otolaryngology. "Our research shows that when you combine this with sound, the brain lights up even more."

Lim said this opens up a new field for using this bimodal and multimodal stimulation to treat diseases.

"It's odd to think about using sound to treat pain, but if you think about what institutes like the University of Minnesota's Center for Spirituality and Healing or the NIH's National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health are doing, they're looking at music therapy and combining other modalities with the traditional methods to be able to enhance healing of these types of conditions," Lim said. "This research gives us a new, structured framework for moving forward."

The Research:

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation, the Lions Hearing Foundation, the University of Minnesota Interdisciplinary Fellowship, and University of Minnesota Lab Startup Funds.

In addition to Gloeckner and Lim, the research team included University of Minnesota Twin Cities Department of Biomedical Engineering alumnus Jian Nocon (B.S. BME '17).

Reference Source(s):

Treating Chronic Pain with Sound and Electrical Stimulation | University of Minnesota (twin-cities.umn.edu). Disabled World makes no warranties or representations in connection therewith. Content may have been edited for style, clarity or length.

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