Over the past decade, physical therapy has switched from a focus on strength to movement. A new paper and a new understanding of the brain may provide one reason why movement matters.
Pain goes through the thalamus, and typically, is processed by the Anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). Personally, I refer to it as the Arbiter of Cognitive Conflict because this is where the brain determines how pain will be responded to. It can do a few things:
Connect to memories of pain experiences via the frontal cortex.
Remember the issue for later — tagging in the hippocampus.
Get afraid — bringing in the amygdala.
Or ignore the stimulus altogether in favor of something far more interesting.
One interesting way in which movement may help reduce chronic pain comes from a few recent studies. Drs. Zhu and Bian noted that the ACC/hippocampus circuit mediates contextual fear generalization. Dr. Ichesco noted that this connection between the ACC and hippocampus is intensified during acute pain - the body is prewired to remember pain in order to avoid it later. The key to leveraging these connections to reduce pain might be related to recent findings from Dr. Avinash Singh,who reported that rapid hand movement disrupts the ACC’s connection with the hippocampus.
Over time, might movement make the body forget to overreact to pain?
Given that we make a device that simulates motion, might using a VibraCool not only loosen tight muscles but reduce the strength of remembering that they hurt?
Hopefully, soon we can determine if emulating rapid physical movement, whether with our Pacinian 200Hz, slower or faster frequencies, can disrupt the ACC/Hippocampus connection to reduce acute pain. In the meantime, movement is one other way to help the body remember not to hurt.