Using a Barcode to Evaluate Chronic Pain

Karen Lee Richards Health Guide
  • Scientists have long been searching for some objective way to measure pain.  Now researchers in Switzerland have come up with what they believe is a better and more objective way to measure chronic pain utilizing a barcode

    Those of us who live with chronic pain are very well acquainted with how difficult it is to communicate our pain levels to our doctors.  There are a number of different pain scales utilized by health care professionals to try to quantify our pain.  Probably the most frequently used pain scale is the 0-10 scale with zero being no pain and 10 being the worst pain you can imagine.  The problem with that )and other pain scales) is that they are subjective.  They depend upon the patient to come up with a number – and often the patient isn't really sure what those numbers mean. 

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    Study Design and Results

    The researchers conducting this study observed that people in pain move differently than healthy individuals with no pain.  They therefore felt that movement could be an objective indicator of pain. 

    To test this hypothesis, they monitored the physical activity of 60 chronic pain patients and 15 pain-free healthy subjects for five consecutive days, using sensors equipped with gyroscopes and accelerometers that were attached to the subjects' chests and legs. 

    As they had expected, the investigators found that those with chronic pain moved differently and had more frequent periods of rest than those who were pain-free. 

    Using a very complex series of metrics, the researchers developed a way to translate the data collected from the sensors into a barcode for each patient.  The barcode would then give doctors a better picture of the patient's level of pain as well as how the pain was affecting their ability to function. 

    The study authors explained how movement variations could be used to help diagnose and treat different pain conditions noting, “...patients with painful lower extremity neuropathy tend to move around as much as they can, while patients with hip arthritis tend to remain in the same position and avoid walking, which would increase pain.  Hence pain does affect behavior (and physical activity) in a predictive way, irrespective of the intensity of the symptom.”

    The eventual goal of this use of barcode technology is to help doctors diagnose pain conditions more accurately, target specific treatments to individual patients and monitor the effectiveness of various therapies. 

    In their conclusions, the researchers stated, “The use of physical activity metrics that precisely and completely characterize the features of various chronic pain disorders may substantially improve our current assessment in a number of ways. Since it appears that the mechanism of pain is related to pain behavior, the reliable 'barcoding' of physical activity may significantly improve the assessment of intricate pain conditions where the pain has more than one etiology.”

    My Thoughts...

    I certainly never would have thought of using barcodes to evaluate pain levels, but measuring physical activity, which can then be converted into a barcode, does make some sense.  I can't say I even begin to understand the complex metrics used in this study.  I do, however, understand that it is going to take a lot more research to identify exactly how a large number of different physical movements relate to various chronic pain conditions.  It's going to be interesting to see how this develops.

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    Paraschiv-Ionescu A, et al. Barcoding Human Physical Activity to Assess Chronic Pain Conditions. PloS One. February 23, 2012.

Published On: February 29, 2012