I am a
Home I AM A Search Login

Papers of the Week

2019 Jul-Aug

Pain Rep



Brain mechanisms impacted by psychological therapies for pain: identifying targets for optimization of treatment effects.



Psychological therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, are widely used multifaceted approaches that have been shown to improve pain-related functioning. A small but growing number of studies have used brain imaging to support the use of psychological therapies for pain. Although these studies have led to an increased understanding of how therapies may engage neural systems, there are multiple technical and conceptual challenges to consider. Based on the current literature, several components of effective psychological therapies for pain may be supported by changes in neural circuitry, which are most consistently represented by diminished activation and/or reduced hyperconnectivity in brain regions related to pain processing, emotion, and cognitive control. Findings may vary based on methodological approaches used and may also differ depending on targets of treatment. To provide a nuanced understanding of the current literature, specific targets and components of effective treatments for which a neural basis has been investigated are reviewed. These treatment components include catastrophic thinking about pain, increasing self-efficacy, mindfulness, anxiety symptom reduction, and exposure-based approaches. In general, such strategies have the potential to normalize regional hyperactivations and reduce hyperconnectivity in brain regions associated with nociceptive processing, cognition, and emotion, although additional research is needed. By determining if there are indeed distinct brain mechanisms engaged by different components of psychological therapy and evidence for specific changes in neural function after these interventions, future therapies may be more optimally tailored for individuals afflicted with chronic pain.