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The Brain in Pain

by YPU Admin on March 17, 2016, Comments. Tags: brain, Chronic Pain, Medic, Nerves, pain, PhD, Research, and UoM

Introduction

My name is Javin Sandhu. I am currently a medical student intercalating between years 4 and 5 of medical school to perform an MRes in Medical Sciences. This MRes course provides you with an opportunity to take on a research project that grabs your interest with a supportive supervisor who guides you through the process.

I was fortunate to do my research project in the processing of pain in the brain thereby combining my two core interests: neurology (study of the nervous system) and anaesthetics (drugs that work on the nervous system to put people to sleep). In addition, I have been fortunate to receive the John Snow for Anaesthetic Research funded by the BJA/RCoA to help support me during the master’s degree (please see http://www.niaa.org.uk/article.php?newsid=1454). 

In Depth…

When we experience pain, certain regions of the brain are activated. All these regions make up a “pain matrix”.  The pain matrix is divided into areas which process the location of pain and the emotional effect of that pain. Chronic pain and acute pain activate the same regions of the pain matrix but to different extents. These differences suggest that we should be aiming to develop ways of imaging ongoing clinical pain. Previous research from the Human Pain Research Group (see below for link), has shown success for treatment approaches such as meditation and placebo. This previous research has also shown an increase in a certain pattern of brain activity (known as alpha activity). There are various methods on how to image the brain’s functions. These approaches depend on how the brain uses oxygen (showing brain activity) or the electrical activity of the brain (which shows which brain cells are transferring information).

What do I investigate?

My research is based upon trying to find a unique pattern of brain activity for chronic pain by measuring the brain’s electrical activity in patients with chronic pain caused by rheumatoid and osteoarthritis.  I will be using EEG to pick up the brain’s electrical activity and analysing this data to figure out which areas of the brain are activated. We hope to find a unique pattern of brain activity which can be used in the future to test patients with chronic pain. This would help figure out how much pain these patients are in and to prevent patients which are addicted to painkillers “faking their chronic pain”.

Going Further…

You can visit this website for more information about The Human Pain Research Group -(http://www.bbmh.manchester.ac.uk/research/ccn/pain/)

For more information about the MRes Medical Sciences course, please see -(http://www.mhs.manchester.ac.uk/study/masters/courses/medical-sciences-mres/)

Also if you want more information about pain, please see - (http://www.iasp-pain.org/)

Finally, for a brief introduction into brain imaging techniques, please see -(http://www.bbmh.manchester.ac.uk/research/ccn/pain/Research/brainimaging/)

 

The Psychology of Pain

by YPU Admin on June 3, 2013, Comments. Tags: gesture, pain, psychology, and science

Introduction

Hello! My name is Sam Rowbotham I am PhD student and Tutor in Psychology, spending half of my time on each of these. My PhD research focused on the hand-gestures we use when speaking and how these can help us to communicate about painful experiences (such as migraines, back pain etc), in the hope that this will improve communication between doctors and patients.

In Depth

How did I get here?

After completing my A-Levels (Psychology, English Literature, and History) in 2005, I came to the University of Manchester to study Psychology, graduating in 2008. At the end of my degree I decided to stay at Manchester to complete a one-year Masters in Research Methods (Psychology) so that I could develop my research skills further. Following this I applied for a joint PhD and Teaching post (also here at Manchester) which I began in September 2009. Because my PhD is part-time it should take me six years to complete (rather than the usual 3-4 years) but I am hoping to finish it a year early! Along the way I have strengthened my research skills by completing a number of temporary Research Assistant posts, including one in which we looked at why doctors and nurses give people antibiotics for coughs and colds (despite the fact that these medicines don’t work for these illnesses!). 


My research


During my undergraduate degree I became fascinated with the movements we make with our hands and arms when speaking – our co-speech gestures. These gestures do more than simply express how we feel – they carry information about the things we are talking about, such as the shape and size of objects. However, researchers hadn’t really considered how people use these gestures when talking about sensations such as pain – something we often find quite tricky to describe. This is where my PhD comes in – I look at how these gestures are used to describe pain and whether seeing gestures can improve people’s understanding of other people’s pain. To do this I video-record people talking about pain and then analyse the video data in detail, looking at how many gestures they use and what kind of information these gestures contain (e.g. about where pain is located and how it feels). I have also created short clips of these pain descriptions which I play to other people to see what information they can pick up from these gestures. A similar video can be seen on YouTube.


What impact will my PhD have?

So far my research has demonstrated that hand gestures contain lots of information about pain, a lot of which is not contained in the speech they occur with. If we can also show that ordinary people (i.e. not trained gesture analysts) can pick up this information (something I am studying now) then this is important for pain communication in medical settings. Hopefully, it will encourage doctors to be more attentive to gestures when talking to patients and therefore pick up more information about pain. This is particularly important as people often find it difficult to explain their pain to others: if we cannot explain pain, it can be difficult to get the right treatment.


My day-to-day routine

One of the things that I love most about my work life is that everyday is different. Because I teach alongside my PhD, some day I might be helping students to work through practical exercises in their statistics classes, teaching study skills to groups of 10-15 students, delivering nonverbal communication lectures to over 100 third year students, or marking essays and exams. When I am working on my PhD, my days change depending on whether I am collecting data (e.g. by interviewing participants or getting them to watch pain descriptions and answer questions), analysing data (e.g. looking in detail at video data on the computer), or writing up my findings for psychology journals. This means that although I am often very busy trying to juggle multiple things I am rarely bored – I wouldn’t have it any other way!


Going Further...

If you are thinking of studying Psychology at the University of Manchester then take a look at our website for more info, including comments and clips from present and past students. You can also check out our blog where you will find updates about what is going on in the department and the activities that staff and students have been involved in.

The British Psychological Society and the Brightside Trust also have lots of useful information about careers in Psychology. The British Psychological Society also has a great blog with regular posts about lots of aspects of Psychology.

If you are interested in finding out more about nonverbal communication there is a nice article here from The Psychologist magazine (published by the British Psychological Society). You can also find the slides for a recent presentation on my research here