Pain and the Default Mode Network
Neuroplasticity is an essential activity of the brain associated with new learning. It involves constant changing of the ways that nerve cells connect to each other and organize networks dedicated to many different functions. Larger networks of cells in the brain connect to each other by electromagnetic waves that fire in slow rhythms and are called Resting State Networks. These networks rhythmically activate one another when we are at rest. One of the most studied of these Resting State Networks is the Default Mode Network (DMN). Under normal conditions the DMN fires every 10 seconds and is related to consciousness and our sense of self. Essentially, the DMN tells us who we are. The network is activated when people daydream, meditate, or are being introspective.
The DMN is scattered throughout the thinking part of the brain. Another Resting State Network is the Frontoinsular Network (FIN). This network tells the brain what current information is the most important to attend to. It is called a Salience network and helps the brain decide how to deal with the massive amount of information presented to it in an order of greatest to least importance. In persistent pain states, depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorders, the 1 cycle every 10 second rhythm that exists between the DMN and FIN is disrupted and changes to 1 cycle every 4.5 to 5 seconds. When pain stimuli ramp up frequencies between the Fronto Insular Network (FIN) and the anterior DMN a disruption of one’s sense of self occurs. This is worsened further when FIN pain signals increase frequencies in the posterior DMN. The result is that the person experiencing this starts to experience them self through their pain and the neuroplastically disrupted background rhythms of the brain perpetuate persistent pain. Resolution of persistent pain results in a return of the DMN/FIN rhythm to 1 cycle every 10 seconds. A similar pattern of disruption and resolution occurs with depression, anxiety and emotional trauma, presenting another link between persistent pain and emotional disturbance.