Recent study’s ‘pain neuroscience education’ program provides relief from chronic pain

A July study published in the medical journal JAMA Neurology finds that learning about neuroscience may provide pain relief when combined with a closely integrated exercise program

In the study, researchers from Belgium divided 120 patients with chronic back or neck pain into two groups for different treatments.

In the control group, patients received a general education on back and neck pain as well a commonly recommended program of physical therapy and general exercises.

In the experimental group, the remaining patients completed a program of “pain neuroscience education,” learning about the functions of neurons and synapses, the ways in which pain signals are transmitted to the brain and the effects pain can have on the central nervous system.

They also underwent an exercise program that complemented the education program, gradually increased in difficulty and focused on maintaining motor functionality rather than providing pain relief.

Treatment lasted three months in both groups, and patients received follow-up examinations six and 12 months afterward.

The results of this study greatly interested me, and they may surprise many readers.

Patients in the experimental group experienced less pain, higher pain thresholds, improved function and a significant reduction in disability, compared to those in the control group. By their own self-reporting, they also enjoyed better physical and mental health.

From this study, the researchers concluded that “pain neuroscience education,” when combined with “cognition-targeted motor control training,” seems to be more effective than current best-evidence physical therapy at treating pain, reducing disability, and improving functionality.

The reason this study caught my eye is because it confirms many of my intuitions as a pain specialist over the years.

Over my many years of experience, I have found that successful pain management requires two key factors: a patient’s awareness of their condition; and a creative, individually designed plan of care.

There are dozens of pain conditions that can affect a patient’s body — anywhere from the neck and back to the nerves and joints. And there are just as many treatments that can help provide relief and restore functionality.

In order for pain management to be successful, patients must know the cause of their conditions and the ways in which they operate to cause pain. In addition, they must receive a custom-made treatment plan, because there is no one-size-fits-all approach to pain management.

It is because of these two reasons that I take special care in my practice to inform my patients of all the relevant details regarding their conditions. This information not only provides them with mental comfort — as they have an identifiable problem rather than the frightening unknown — but it also allows us to craft a strategy together.

Armed with this knowledge and this strategy, we can tackle almost any pain condition with the right treatment.

As the researchers in Belgium found, knowledge and strategy are always more effective than ignorance and lack of planning. I see that point be proven true every day in my practice.

Dr. Nikesh Seth is the founder and CEO of Integrated Pain Consultants in Scottsdale, Ariz. He is a double board-certified anesthesiologist and interventional pain management expert and has been voted Top Doc by PHOENIX magazine for four years in a row.

Integrated Pain Consultants offers a wide range of minimally invasive techniques to treat pain so patients can return to their normal lives. IPC has three offices — in Scottsdale, North Phoenix and Mesa.

To set up an appointment or learn more about treatments offered, please call (480) 626-2552 or visit

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