Being paralyzed doesn’t mean being pain free
22 years ago, Kurt Gengenbach became a C4 quadriplegic during a senior high school hockey game. He went in for a hit, lost the edge of his skate and slammed headfirst into the boards.
Many people assume that if you are paralyzed, you can’t feel anything. But this is not the case.
Kurt says: “My pain dictates my life much more than my disability ever has.”
What a chilling statement. How terrible his pain must be.
Kurt says “You don’t get used to it, you just learn to deal with it.” .A big frustration is that people do not realize how bad the situation is. “I sometimes beg for the ability to make someone feel my pain for five or 10 seconds,” he says. “I feel bad for saying that. It’s very hard for people to understand.
Now, researchers are taking the first steps toward developing a tool to detect pain based on patterns of human brain activity. The most recent experiments involve functional MRIs of the brain that show what activity is going on.
In a study reported last month, Stanford University School of Medicine researchers put people inside MRI machines, applied a heat probe to their arms, then looked at the brain patterns with and without heat.
The brain patterns were recorded and interpreted by computer algorithms to create a model of what pain – in this case, mild pain in a carefully controlled lab setting – looks like.
The next step is to see whether the same method can be used to measure chronic pain.
“The issue of validation of pain is a critical one,” said senior author Dr. Sean Mackey, chief of the division of pain management at Stanford.
“They don’t feel like they’ve been believed, they feel as if their physicians and friends and families think the pain is not real. They’re desperately looking for a way to prove to people that they do have pain.”
Photo of Kurt Gengenbach by: Sarah Dea, Postmedia News