Demystifying Phantom Pain
Understanding how our brains interpret pain is an ongoing investigation. Some think pain can be as much a physical phenomenon as it is a cultural one. While in the West pain management seems to be just part of life. We wanted to investigate what psychology can tell us about pain and the brain.
In this edition of Two Guys on Your Head, Dr. Art Markman and Dr. Bob Duke, kick off our three-part series on "Pain and The Brain" with a discussion of "Phantom Pain." What it is, and how psychologists are finding new ways of helping patients who suffer with it.
As Dr. Markman points out in the show, the response to pain is a construction in our brains where our brain is trying to give us information about damage to our bodies. However, our brains aren't just interpreting what's happening in the body, they're also trying to construct the sense of your body that you can understand.
With phantom pain, what is interesting is that, just because a limb or part of your body may be gone, your brain still has all of the receptors that indicate the body part is still intact. As Dr. Duke explains, evolutionarily speaking, our brains didn't evolve in an environment that allowed us to adapt to the loss of a limb. We would just die.
The work that is being done in psychology and neurology today surrounding phantom pain is interesting, if inconclusive. What it does tell us is that the brain is adapting to the changing environment of our bodies and our selves, and what we can learn about all of this through our relationship to pain is only just beginning.