Effects of non-pharmacological pain treatments on brain states

Clin Neurophysiol. 2013 Oct;124(10):2016-24. doi: 10.1016/j.clinph.2013.04.009. Epub 2013 May 22.


Objective: To (1) evaluate the effects of a single session of four non-pharmacological pain interventions, relative to a sham tDCS procedure, on pain and electroencephalogram- (EEG-) assessed brain oscillations, and (2) determine the extent to which procedure-related changes in pain intensity are associated with changes in brain oscillations.

Methods: 30 individuals with spinal cord injury and chronic pain were given an EEG and administered measures of pain before and after five procedures (hypnosis, meditation, transcranial direct current stimulation [tDCS], neurofeedback, and a control sham tDCS procedure).

Results: Each procedure was associated with a different pattern of changes in brain activity, and all active procedures were significantly different from the control procedure in at least three bandwidths. Very weak and mostly non-significant associations were found between changes in EEG-assessed brain activity and pain.

Conclusions: Different non-pharmacological pain treatments have distinctive effects on brain oscillation patterns. However, changes in EEG-assessed brain oscillations are not significantly associated with changes in pain, and therefore such changes do not appear useful for explaining the benefits of these treatments.

Significance: The results provide new findings regarding the unique effects of four non-pharmacological treatments on pain and brain activity.

Keywords: Brain states; Chronic pain; Electroencephalography; Non-pharmacological treatments; Spinal cord injury.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Chronic Disease
  • Electric Stimulation Therapy / methods
  • Electroencephalography*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypnosis
  • Male
  • Meditation
  • Middle Aged
  • Neurofeedback
  • Nociception / physiology*
  • Pain Management / methods*
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / complications
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / therapy
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation / methods
  • Young Adult