Memories of devastating heartbreaks appear to trigger activity in the brain that's similar to when people suffer physical pain, recent research suggests.

Previous research has shown a link between what the study authors call 'socially induced pain"-the kind you get from dealing with other people-and physical pain. For the recent study, lead author Edward E. Smith, PhD, director of cognitive neuroscience at Columbia University and colleagues looked at rejection specifically.

"From everyday experience, rejection seems to be one of the most painful things we experience," Dr. Smith said. "It seems the feelings of rejection can be sustained even longer than being angry."

Study Details

But where do you find rejected people? In New York City, of course, where hundreds or even thousands of relationships must fall apart every day, according to the study authors. The researchers advertised online and in newspapers in search of people whose romantic partners had broken up with them. In all cases, they hadn't wanted the breakups to happen.

Forty people, all of whom felt "intensely rejected," ultimately took part in the study. As the researchers scanned their brains, the participants were told to look at photos, including photos of their friends (they were directed to think positive thoughts about them), and photos of their exes (they were directed to think about their breakup).

The participants also underwent brain scans as they felt pain on their forearms similar to the feeling of holding a hot cup of coffee.

Several of the same areas of the brain became active when the participants felt either physical pain or emotional pain. In fact, the two types of pain seem to share more regions of the brain than previously thought, Dr. Smith noted.

The findings appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


"This tells us how serious rejection can be sometimes," Dr. Smith said. "When people are saying 'I really feel in pain about this breakup, you don't want to trivialize it and dismiss it by saying 'It's all in your mind.""

The finding could lead to more than a better understanding of the link between emotional and physical pain, Dr. Smith said. "Our ultimate goal is to see what kind of therapeutic approach might be useful in relieving the pain of rejection."

What about other kinds of emotional pain? Do they have the same effect on the brain? Maybe not. Dr. Smith said rejection appears to be in a class by itself in terms of its similarity to physical pain.

Future research could examine how emotional pain due to rejection affects how people feel physical pain, said Robert C. Coghill, PhD, an associate professor in the department of neurobiology and anatomy at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. Would rejected people feel more pain than other people? And what about after they get reminded about their rejections by looking at pictures?

For now, one thing is clear: Brain scan or no brain scan, rejection hurts.

Licorice Eases Postsurgical Pain

In a study of 40 adults being prepared for spinal surgery, half gargled with a diluted licorice solution and half gargled with water five minutes before receiving anesthesia via an airway tube.

Result: Two hours after surgery, about 25% of the licorice group had a sore throat, compared with 75% of those who gargled with water. Licorice group members also were less likely to develop postoperative cough.

Theory: Licorice contains active ingredients that have anti-inflammatory, anti-irritant and anti-cough effects.

Self defense: If you are scheduled to undergo surgery requiring general anesthesia with an airway tube, ask your surgeon about using a licorice gargle.

First Aid for Sudden Back Pain

To treat sudden severe back pain often triggered by bending over or even sneezing)...

Lie down immediately in a comfortable position on a bed or firm mattress placed on the floor. Then apply ice for 10 to 30 minutes-either a soft gel ice pack or a flexible freezer package, such as a bag of peas. Call your doctor or chiropractor for advice. To get up from lying down, roll onto your side, lift your body while swinging your legs over the edge of the bed. If getting up from the floor, roll onto your side, then onto your knees and then get help rising to a standing position.

Caution: Do not sit on soft furniture, such as an overstuffed chair--this can make back pain worse, and you may have trouble getting up. If you must sit, use a straight-back chair with arms that provide support when you need to stand.

Torn Rotator Cuff Surgery Helps Older Adults

Due to complications and slow healing, minimally invasive arthroscopic surgery for rotator cuff repair has been rarely recommended for older adults.

Recent research: Two years after 39 adults (age 70 and older) had surgery to repair fully torn rotator cuffs, 96% were found to be pain free, with better shoulder movement and strength.

If your rotator cuff is fully torn (due to injury or heavy lifting): Ask your doctor about first trying rest, ice, slings and steroid injections. If unsuccessful, inquire about surgery.

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