As I noted a few weeks ago, the March 7, 2011 issue of Time magazine was focused on pain. Since nerve pain is a major part of my particular MS package of never-ending delights, I found the issue to be very interesting. The most substantive article in the special issue was Alice Park's Healing the Hurt. Park summarizes pain and points out how vital and necessary a function it is. Until it isn't. She then describes this scenario (when pain is chronic and not an important signal to stop whatever is causing it) and points out its less-than-pleasant-ness: "persistent, unceasing torment." True dat.
The bulk of the article, though, is positive and hopeful in its overview of new research into understanding the complex processes involved in chronic pain and in new treatments. I found to be particularly intriguing the idea of a biofeedback-like process using fMRI technology. A major potential upside to this kind of treatment is that it is non-pharmaceutical so it lacks negative side effects and the potential for addictions. I'm not sure how much of my brain fog to attribute to my pain drugs as opposed to just the MS, but I often daydream about the idea of not having to rely on meds to control the pain at all and thus not having to deal with any of their side effects. Beyond the brain fog, which is bad enough, I'm tormented by dry mouth which is a pretty major issue since I play a brass instrument for a living. I also think that the more body and mind-body awareness a person can have, the better, so I love the idea of retraining neural pathways to lessen pain.
Also discussed is the so-called talking cure, rightfully connecting pain and emotion on both a neurotransmitter and human level. A cure? No, but like meditation, I think therapy or any emotional outlet is an important line of defense to consider. I'm also a big believer in positive distraction, from art to media to people. If the pain's at its worst, I can't really be distracted, but most of the time, healthy distraction goes a long way.
Also worth noting from this issue is John Cloud's article Beyond Drugs which deals with CAM approaches to pain management such as massage, acupuncture, herbs, yoga, and qigong. With the possible exception of herbs, I'm all for CAM approaches to dealing with pain. Yoga, qigong and meditation have been helpful for me. I've not tried massage or acupuncture, though I'm intrigued by both and would like to try them at some point.
I just thought it was great to see a major media outlet like Time magazine deal with this issue in such a prominent way. I'm eager to see what transpires in pain research, especially with nerve pain.