Burke et al is a fascinating article. I’ve read through it a couple times and am now working on making connections, and there are a lot of connections to note. While I work my way through that, there are a few things that have jumped out at me and bit me right in the eye. Or the butt. Or both.
First, stress is not stress is not stress is not stress. The poor baby rats that were experimented on were subjected to a wide variety of stress. The three main types of stress were maternal separation, maternal deprivation, and neonatal limited bedding. Both maternal deprivation and neonatal limited bedding mimicked parental neglect of a young one. Maternal separation is exactly what it sounds like – the babies were separated from the mommies, not necessarily permanently but for periods of time. There were a lot of nuances in the degrees of deprivation and separation, and they were mixed occasionally with pain stress along with the psychological/emotional stress. What’s remarkable is that for each of the different scenarios, there are different physiological outcomes. MS victims do not have the same outcomes as MD or NLB victims.
Second, female and male rats do NOT have the same outcomes in the same scenarios. There are distinct differences in the way female pain processing systems develop under stress and the way male pain processing systems develop under the same stress. It’s remarkable. It’s possible, with the results they discuss, that male rats need more stress to affect their development than females do. However, there are still scenarios that affect male rats more than female rats, so it’s not a matter of male rats being “tougher.”
Third, and this has come up before, but it seems established by the studies they are reviewing, there is a difference between how the body reacts to sudden and short-lived stress and how it reacts to long term stress. For acute stress – imagine being in an accident or seeing a loved one in trouble, and maybe those times of superhuman strength when you pick a car up off your father or tackle the bad guy that just shot you without noticing that you are shot – the body shuts down the pain processing system so it can react unencumbered by pain. At the opposite end of the spectrum, chronic pain actually physically increases the pain receptors in the body, so when the system becomes sensitized, it’s not “all in your head,” it has actually physically changed your pain processing system.
Fascinating article – it’s going to take a page. I’ll let you know when I get it done….