We have completed maintenance on DiscoverMagazine.com and action may be required on your account. Learn More

Are You Wired for Pain?

By Josie Glausiusz
Nov 1, 2000 6:00 AMNov 12, 2019 5:25 AM


Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

Three years ago, doctors in Toronto found that baby boys circumcised without local anesthesia were far more sensitive to pain six months later than their uncircumcised peers. A new study may reveal why: Painful trauma during infancy seems to rewire the nervous system permanently.

Neuroscientist M. A. Ruda and her colleagues at the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research in Bethesda, Maryland, investigated this effect in newborn rats. The researchers injected the animals' hind paws with an irritant that causes several days of pain and swelling. When they reached adulthood, the rats experienced distinctly above-average responsiveness to pain. Autopsies revealed that their spinal cords had 25 percent more pain fibers linked to the hind paws than those in rats that were left alone. It's possible, says Ruda, that similar processes occur in humans exposed to painful medical procedures soon after birth. "There are a number of chronic pain states for which the physical causes are hard to identify," she says. "This is total speculation, but if your responses to pain are altered, you may be at a higher risk for some kinds of persistent pain."

1 free article left
Want More? Get unlimited access for as low as $1.99/month

Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

1 free articleSubscribe
Discover Magazine Logo
Want more?

Keep reading for as low as $1.99!


Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

More From Discover
Recommendations From Our Store
Shop Now
Stay Curious
Our List

Sign up for our weekly science updates.

To The Magazine

Save up to 40% off the cover price when you subscribe to Discover magazine.

Copyright © 2024 Kalmbach Media Co.