Maybe it's your back, or your neck, or your knees. Perhaps it is a constant dull ache, a pulsating throb or a shooting flare. All of us feel pain from time to time, but an estimated 100 million American adults endure it day in and day out. Finding relief can be a headache in itself. In recent years well-meaning medical efforts to control pain have produced a secondary health crisis: widespread opioid addiction and a quadrupling of overdose deaths from prescription opioids since 1999.
This tragic trend has made it clear that we need better, safer ways to relieve pain, especially chronic pain. This is the point of departure for our cover article, written by Stephani Sutherland, a journalist and neuroscientist. Her story takes us inside the Pain Management Center at Stanford University for a look at how cutting-edge experts spell relief.
In the second part of our special report on pain, neurologists R. Allan Purdy and David W. Dodick bring us up-to-date on migraine research. Progress has been made both in deciphering the neural basis of migraine and in developing medications—which should come as good news to the one in five women and one in 16 men in the U.S. who suffer from this condition.
At the far end of the experiential spectrum from pain is laughter. And this issue is leavened with a delightful article by developmental psychologist Gina C. Mireault, who studies the giggles and glee of babies. “Laughter,” she writes, reveals much “about infants' understanding of the physical and social world.”
This magazine has often covered heroic efforts by scientists to solve a mystery or cure a disease, but sometimes the research heroes are the patients. In an article, journalist Yudhijit Bhattacharjee chronicles the vital role that Ian Burkhart, a young quadriplegic, has played in helping scientists at Ohio State University develop a brain-machine interface for restoring mobility to paralyzed limbs. As one researcher told Bhattacharjee, “It's because of him that we are making these strides.”
And now a final note. This will be the last regular print edition of Scientific American Mind. Subscribers will continue to receive a new digital version, and as a bonus, they will also receive monthly issues of Scientific American for the remainder of their subscription. (For more details, go to www.ScientificAmerican.com/Transfer.) It has been a joy to edit this magazine for these past two years, and let me remind you that you can always find great reporting on neuroscience, mental health and psychology at www.ScientificAmerican.com/mind.