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PLoS One. 2011;6(8):e23536. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0023536. Epub 2011 Aug 26.

Why self-induced pain feels less painful than externally generated pain: distinct brain activation patterns in self- and externally generated pain.

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Key Laboratory of Mental Health, Institute of Psychology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China.


Voluntary movement generally inhibits sensory systems. However, it is not clear how such movement influences pain. In the present study, subjects actively or passively experienced mechanical pain or pressure during functional MRI scanning. Pain and pressure were induced using two modified grip strengthener rings, each twined with four crystal bead strings, with polyhedral beads to induce pain, or spherical beads to induce pressure. Subjects held one ring in the left hand and were either asked to squeeze their left hand with their right hand (i.e., active pain or pressure), or to have their left hand squeezed by the experimenter (i.e., passive pain or pressure). Subjects rated the intensity and unpleasantness of the pain sensation lower in the active procedure than in the passive one. Correspondingly, pain-related brain areas were inhibited in the case of self-generated pain, including the primary somatosensory cortex (SI), anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), and the thalamus. These results suggest that active movement behaviorally inhibits concomitant mechanical pain, accompanied by an inhibition of pain response in pain-related brain areas such as the SI cortex. This might be part of the mechanisms underlying the kinesitherapy for pain treatment.

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