Recent advances in the understanding of how the mind works is the result of painstaking research which has isolated tiny regions of the spinal cord and brain, and singular chemical pathways or responses to sole neurotransmitters. The true nature of the central nervous system has eluded investigators because of its fully integrated, constantly changing structure and a symphony of chemical mediators. Each sensation, thought, feeling, movement and social interaction changes the structure and function of the brain. The mere presence of another living organism can have profound effects on the mind and body through imperceptible olfactory stimuli.
Neuroplasticity is a general term referring to the ability of neurons to alter their structure and function in response to internal and external stimuli. Although differences occur with aging, this is a lifelong process. Physical and chemical neuroplastic changes occur with learning, memory and chronic pain. Evidence presented supports the notion that chronic pain is a maladaptive learned phenomenon. Further evidence supports that if severe pain is allowed to persist for more than 24 hours, the neuroplastic changes associated with the development of incurable chronic pain syndromes begin to take place. Even after chronic pain is well established, new thought and behavior patterns can be learned, allowing sufferers to restore more adaptive physiologic, cognitive and behavioral patterns.
Questions or comments about this article may be directed to: Paul M. Arnstein, PhD. RN, CS, 12 Oxalis Way. Concord, New Hampshire 03303. He is a clinical nurse specialist at Concord Hospital in Concord. New Hampshire and a University Fellow at Boston College in Massachusetts.
© 1997 American Association of Neuroscience Nurses