Pain is something that we’ve all experienced at some point in our life. The way that you deal with and suffer through pain can be greatly determined by where that pain is located on the body. Researchers have found that pain felt from the head and face can actually be more emotionally draining and disruptive than other types of pain. The reason there is such a notable distinction is because the sensory neurons that are wired from the face and head to the brain reside in an emotional signaling hub. The sensory neurons that are wired from the body to the brain have an indirect connection to this hub.
This is typically why many people loathe experiencing headaches or migraines, reasoning that it’s much more distressing to have to deal with that pain rather than from other parts of the body. In fact, individuals have categorically rated pain felt from teeth, ears, eyes, face and head as much more disruptive and emotionally taxing than pain felt anywhere else on the body.
Duke University scientists wanted to conduct research regarding these differences and to specify what brain waves may experience when face or head pain is felt. It goes much deeper than what our five senses may tell us about sensations but how the experienced sensation causes us to feel emotionally.
Emotional Aspects Of Pain
Due to the direct wiring from the sensory neurons into the brain’s primary and principal emotional signal hubs, this is why the prospects of chronic migraines and neuropathic face pain can be so debilitating. A professor of neurobiology and cell biology Fan Wang, who teaches at Duke explains: “Usually doctors focus on treating the sensation of pain, but this shows that we really need to treat the emotional aspects of pain as well. There has been this observation in human studies that pain in the head and face seems to activate the emotional system more extensively. But the underlying mechanisms remained unclear.”
Wang and his team of researchers wanted to pinpoint just how these two types of pains differed, and in order to do so, they tracked the brain chemistry and activity of mice after aggravating either their face or their paw. Aggravating their face lead to a much higher brain activity than any type of aggravation or pain inflicted onto their paw.
The amount of brain activity was seen in the parabrachial nucleus, commonly referred to as the PBL, which is the region that is directly connected to the brains emotional and instinctive centers. These insights and research findings can potentially help provide necessary insights that would encourage better treatment plans for those who do experience chronic face and head pain.
Understanding why the presence of conditions such as cluster headaches and migraines are so excruciating is better understood when both the chronic nature, as well as the interworking of the connections within the pain sensors that make them so debilitating and painful, are better explained. Identifying a new approach, now that the information on why things are this way for pain above the neck, can be largely helpful in better managing and treating said pain. Perhaps directly dealing with the emotional experience can help to manage the pain and discomfort more thoroughly.