Could We Be Pain Free In The Future?

mouse vaccine painAlthough not as much money is being spent on understanding pain as doctors would like, there is still some promising research taking place throughout the world. For example, new research published in Nature Neuroscience took a closer look at re-wiring the brain’s transmitters when it mistakenly interprets signals as pain.

The research began by looking at mice who had peripheral nerve damage and chronic pain from a previous leg surgery. In these mice, a broken circuit in the pain-processing region of the brain caused hyperactivity that led to pain for more than a month. Scientists realized that the peripheral nerve damage deactivated a set of interconnected brain cells, called somatostatin (SOM), which usually work to lessen pain signals.

Fixing The Broken Circuit

Researchers were interested in learning if this connection could be fixed, and if it could, how we’d go about repairing it. One method they tried was to manually activate the SOM interneurons, and they found that this led to a significant decrease in the development of chronic pain.

“Our findings suggest that manipulating interneuron activity after peripheral nerve injury could be an important avenue for the prevention of pyramidal neuron over-excitation and the transition from acute postoperative pain to chronic centralized pain,” the authors, led by neuroscientist Guang Yang at New York University School of Medicine, conclude. They believe future drug therapies or magnetic brain stimulation could mend these SOM interneuron connections and prevent pain signals from misfiring.

The authors are cautiously optimistic, but they realize that there is a big difference in the brains of mice and the brains of humans. The study needs to be repeated and the results verified before any similar testing in humans could take place, but it’s a start.

“Our study provides, to our knowledge, the first direct evidence that impaired SOM cell activity is involved in the development of neuropathic pain,” the researchers wrote.

They hope to confirm their results and examine whether manipulating other cells could play a role in the reduction of chronic pain. If they can, we may have specific cells in which to base our intervention techniques. This is exciting.

The Link Between Chronic Pain and Insomnia

chronic pain insomniaThe following guest article was written by Katrina Rice.

Anyone who suffers from chronic pain from health issues like rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis knows the drastic effects it has on their way of living – whether it be restricted mobility, increased medical expenses or reduced social life, accomplishing tasks seem to become quite unbearable every single day. And at night, sleep is disrupted due to the aching hips, back, knees and legs.

According to medical experts, arthritis sufferers are highly likely to suffer from insomnia as well. But recent studies show that restless nights and arthritis symptoms are a “two-way street” problem. Chronic pain can lead to a lack of sleep, and sleep deprivation can make chronic pain worse.

Doctors have recently become more focused on treating insomnia to improve the health conditions of patients suffering from chronic pain. One important note to remember is pain and insomnia work in a cycle. According to Professor Alan Silman, a medical director of Arthritis Research UK, “Pain induces insomnia and insomnia induces pain”.

Arthritis and Insomnia

Osteoarthritis is the wear and tear or degradation of bone tissues whereas rheumatoid arthritis is when the immune system attacks the joints. Much of the pain patients feel is due to the inflammatory responses of their body whenever it travels to their joints. It is fully understood by experts that disrupted sleep does increase the number of inflammatory markers and further aggravates the joints.

Inflammatory compounds in the body play a vital role in sleep disturbance. This disturbance will then alter the natural cycle of hormones in the body and affect the underlying levels of inflammation. Other cytokines (pro-inflammatory messengers) may also be involved in this activity. While insomnia releases more damaging inflammatory chemicals in the body, it also means the body misses out on the opportunity to heal when sleeping. After all, sleep is the longest time when the body is at rest and has low inflammation levels. So it is really the best time for the damaged cells to heal.

Effects Of Sleep Deprivation On Chronic Pain

The most notable effect of sleep loss in chronic pain is the low production of growth hormones. The growth hormone is vital in many body processes including cell development, weight regulation of the body and tissue repair, as well as replacement of collagen and bone cells. Though the growth hormone is released in the body at any time of the day, the biggest bursts come from the moment our bodies fall into deep sleep. But if deep sleep is not achieved, the body may not produce enough growth hormones. Furthermore, lack of sleep makes patient irritable and weary – this makes them even more sensitive to pain.

There are a number of treatments and alternative remedies that can be used to help ease the pain, but NSAIDs are usually prescribed for those who experience severe pain. Other forms of treatment come in natural supplements like glucosamine, chondroitin and curcumin supplements.  Patients with osteoarthritis usually choose glucosamine, but curcumin pills are also becoming more popular among arthritis patients. As for side effects, you can easily search reviews and testimonials in Google.

The bottomline is that chronic pain sufferers are stuck in a vicious cycle and they need to get out of it. In order to help them increase their pain threshold and reduce chronic inflammation, getting enough rest is a must. Here are six tips to use to help achieve a good night’s sleep.

  • Avoid taking afternoon naps. No matter how much you want to rest, it only gives you more energy in the evening. Keep yourself occupied when you start feeling sleepy in the afternoon.
  • Use lamps with warm light instead of ceiling lights. Warm lights have a soothing effect and can help you feel calmer and sleepier.
  • Avoid coffee, tea or any caffeinated products after 3:00 p.m., and never drink alcohol after 9:00 p.m.
  • Keep your waking and bed time consistent every day. This helps your biological clock get used to the routine and will eventually follow that pattern on its own.
  • Eliminate midnight snacking.
  • Do not gain weight, and instead, try to lose more pounds. Excess body fat can put more pressure on your joints. Gaining more weight means your fat cells will expand and your body will eventually start producing more cytokines – a fuel for inflammation.

Katrina Rice is a mom and a freelance writer. She strongly believes in the concept of holistic wellness through healthy and natural living, traveling and immersing one’s self in new activities. A self-proclaimed health enthusiast, she hopes to inspire more people to turn to natural treatments in addressing health issues.

Pain, The Brain, and the Emotional Link Between The Two

Pain in the Brain and Emotional LinkThe definition of pain is always worth remembering, especially when one spends their days trying to treat this vexing problem. For the record, by the International Association for the Study of Pain, pain is defined as an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage. The take home message is that pain is always subjective. Pain is always considered unpleasant and therefore is also an emotional experience. The definition purposely avoids tying pain to a noxious stimuli and activity of sensory receptors for nocioception. Pain is always a psychological state.

As a specialist in medicine, learning is never done. Several weeks ago, I was again at a major national meeting. This time it was for the annual meeting for Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, which brings together practitioners in this specialty from around the world. This is my specialty, and practitioners in this discipline have an extremely broad range of practice. One of the few common threads is we tend to treat people who have had some sort of “injury” to their body, and our goal is to restore function. Pain and the comprehensive management of the problems associated with it are always a major topic.

The Brain and The Emotional Pain Link

Pain is so complex because it is an event that occurs in the brain. If a patient is complaining of pain, one always is trying to determine what are the associated emotional components. When the symptoms have not resolved quickly with management, then the emotional components often become more important than the actual stimuli that are occurring. By the time a patient is seen by a pain specialist, the emotional components of pain are often some of the most important to treat to solve the overall problems. The hardest thing for most patients to understand is that pain is an emotional experience, and if pain is ongoing, many patients become anxious about the pain and depressed. Furthermore, if depression, anxiety, or personality issues are pre-existing conditions to pain, then treating the psychological problems often become a necessity to successfully treat pain.

In the brain, the regions that are responsible for interpretation of pain are actually in the same area as those for anxiety, stress, and sensations associated with depression. If there are a lot of signals for pain, they can secondarily stimulate stress, anxiety and depression regions. If there is significant anxiety and depression, pain often becomes intolerable. Pain and the associated emotional problems often appear inseparable. Further, many feel that if someone wants to treat the emotional aspects of pain, then it must not be real and its all in their own heads.

If the patient has ongoing issues with anxiety, stress and depression, the body interprets emotional pain as physical symptoms. Treating the peripheral issues often provides no relief of pain because there is still an emotional experience occurring. Both the patient and the physician become frustrated since the experience of pain is so complex with multiple levels of meaning. Further, addressing psychological issues that may have existed for years is often more daunting then treating a simple structural issue that caused noxious stimuli, but once the two start interacting, often they become inseparable.

Pain is an emotional experience. Treating both the emotional aspects of pain, the stress, anxiety and depression often is the only way to improve the function of a person. Having a patient recognize the importance of the emotional aspects of pain and start addressing these issues can be miraculous in successful pain management. Often the toughest discussions with a patient are how pain affects a person emotionally and the quality of their life. Recognizing stress, anxiety and depression is often equally important in effectively treating other body symptoms.

What are Pain Injections?

Pain injectionsPatients often have severe pain that has not responded well to conservative care. Rest, ice, physical therapy, and over the counter medications may not solve the pain problem. When the regular treatments are not working, sometimes it is appropriate to have a specific injection to treat pain. Most injections are used to decrease inflammation that is causing pain from a specific location, such as a joint, tendon, nerve or the spine. The most common medication injected is a corticosteroid, a type of steroid used to decrease inflammation.

The most common steroids used are:

  • Dexamethasone
  • Methylprednisolone
  • Betamethasone
  • Triamenacelone

How Pain Works

Pain is expressed as sensory signals from a structure that is generating unpleasant signals. The signals travel from a remote location in the periphery of the body, travel by the nerves to the spine, then travel up the cord to the brain to be deciphered. Unfortunately, the brain sometimes cannot identify the exact location that is generating the signals. Injections are recommended by many different physicians to control pain, but since pain is often very complex, determining what should be injected and where to inject it can prove problematic. A good patient history, physical exam, and sometimes, special studies including MRI scans are helpful to identify the possible sources of the pain signals. If the source is possibly acute inflammation and irritation of a structure, placing a steroid injection in the area may allow the structure to return to normal and alleviate pain.

The structures that receive injection include the space around the spine and spinal nerves – the epidural space –  joints, areas around nerves, tendons, ligaments, bursa, and muscles. Any of these areas can become inflamed. If they are not healing with conservative care, then placing corticosteroid in the area can allow the inflammation to resolve. Once the inflammation is improved the structures need to be strengthened so that the problem does not return. Sometimes the procedure needs to be repeated to further decrease damage. At other times, multiple structures are inflamed and multiple structures need to be treated.

The key to successful injections includes having someone to determine what is wrong and the structures that need to be treated. Having a skilled clinician perform the injections is important. A physician who has been trained in interventions is also beneficial. The treating physician may be an expert in one of many specialties, but most commonly they are trained in Anesthesia, Physical Medicine or Radiology. An experienced specialist will be able to performed the injection comfortably and effectively. Consult a Physical Medicine pain specialist to develop a comprehensive treatment plan if your symptoms are not resolving.

Can Antidepressants Relieve Pain?

antidepressantsPain and depression are closely linked in the brain, and medications used in depression can be helpful in the controlling pain.  Some antidepressants directly impact pain, while others only affect depression.

Antidepressants are most helpful in treating pain caused by damage to nerves or by an overactive nervous system (aka neuropathic pain).  Specifically, antidepressant medications can help treat the following painful conditions:

Acute injury and surgical pain may be helped, but is still being studied.

Types of Antidepressants

There are two types of antidepressant medications that are used to control neuropathic pain:

  1. Tri-cyclic antidepressants (TCAs), such as amitriptyline, Nortriptyline, and desipramine
  2. Serotonin/noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) such as Cymbalta and Savella

Antidepressants such as Zoloft, Prozac, Celexa, and Effexor have no affect on pain.  These medications decrease nerve transmission and nerve sensitivity. The TCAs have many side affects including dry mouth, low blood pressure, sedation, and urinary problems.  The newer SNRIs have very few side affects.  Cymbalta is very effective in a number of neuropathic pain situations including diabetes, radiculopathy, and fibromyalgia, while Savella only is known to work in fibromyalgia.

Pain & Depression are Closely Linked

The nerve fibers that transmit pain sensation travel through the brain in the same regions that process emotional signals.  These regions actually interact with each other.  Stimulating depression centers can increase the perception of pain.  When depression is not controlled, and a patient does have pain, rarely will the pain be controlled no matter what the treatment.  Therefore, treating depression is often essential in effectively treating pain.  Many people do not want to admit that they might be depressed, and thus not treating the depression does affect the pain level perceived.

Pain and depression in the brain are closely linked.  Neuropathic pain is often treated with a variety of medications, many of which are antidepressants.  Pain itself can change a person’s function and activity level, and cause depression.  Treating the concomitant depression that pain may cause does help manage the severity of pain in many patients.  Some medications treat both pain and depression, others may only treat depression, treating both together is often very effective in controlling pain.