Chronic pain could make one’s life hell, in the literal sense of the word. It is one of the most complex and challenging medical conditions to understand with no proper treatment proposed for it yet.
A common concept about chronic pains is that it appears in the case of some injury or when there is a disease, whereas it is nothing like that.
Studies reveal that the presence of chronic pain could be found without the presence of a disease or an injury. To date, chronic pain remains an unsolvable mystery along with being extremely hard to control and treat.
A survey by the American Academy of Pain Medicine showed that even the broadest treatment that involves prescription painkilling drugs helps only 58% of the population suffering from chronic pain.
That is why the people who are suffering from chronic pain have to go about their day constantly feeling pain.
Causes of chronic pain
Chronic pain could happen either due to aging, deterioration of bones, some injury, or there could be no reason at all for such a condition to occur in a person.
An injury which is long healed or a severe infection with its roots penetrated deep inside the tissues of the body, are two main reasons behind the chronic pains that a person feels.
Damage to any of the nerves in the body could also be one of the causes, making the pain long lasting and intense. In such cases, treating the underlying injury may not cure the pain.
In other cases, there could be no apparent reason behind the pain at all. It could happen due to a poor health condition, but the primary cause is never properly understood. Some reasons behind the cause of chronic illnesses are:
- Endometriosis: a painful disorder that occurs when the uterine lining grows outside of the uterus.
- Fibromyalgia: widespread pain in the bones and muscles.
- Chronic fatigue syndrome: characterized by extreme, prolonged weariness that’s often accompanied by pain.
- Inflammatory bowel disease: a group of conditions that causes painful, chronic inflammation of the digestive tract.
- Vulvodynia: chronic vulva pain that occurs with no apparent cause.
- Interstitial cystitis: a chronic disorder marked by bladder pressure and pain.
- Temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ): causes painful clicking, popping, or locking of the jaw.
A few other reasons include:
- Poor posture for longer times
- Carrying and lifting heavy weights in an improper manner
- Being overweight due to which excess strain is put on the back and knees
- Congenital condition such as the weak curvature of spine
- A traumatic injury
- Wearing high heels
- Sleeping on a mattress that is too soft or in a bad condition
- Aging of the bones and natural deterioration
- Deterioration due to lack of minerals in the body
Other than these, a disease could also be the underlying reason behind a chronic pain. Some well-known culprits include Rheumatoid arthritis; osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia, along with cancer, multiple sclerosis, stomach ulcers, AIDS, and gallbladder disease being the major ailments behind persistent pains.
Treating a person’s chronic pain
The main aim is to deal with the pain in a way that it gives lifelong relief and promotes more mobility so that the patient can return to his/her daily activities without any of the discomfort they have been feeling.
The frequency and intensity of the pain depend on the symptoms and underlying health conditions of each. Every person has a different body mechanism, so doctors create different pain management plan for each one of them.
Lifestyle remedies, medical treatments, or a combination of both could help cure the issue to some extent.
Some common medications for chronic pain are:
- Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), acetaminophen, and aspirin
- Opioid pain relievers, including morphine, codeine, and hydrocodone
- Adjuvant analgesics, such as antidepressants and anticonvulsants
Parkinson’s drug! A Cure?
Up till now, you must’ve concluded that treating chronic pain is somewhat a hard task. New research out of Northwestern University, however, has offered hope to the chronic pain patients.
Published in Nature Neuroscience, this study showcases a new kind of treatment strategy, involving two FDA-approved drugs to target the brain circuits in chronic pain patients.
The said method has been proved to be a success in animals and scientists are now pursuing to test it in humans too.
Chronic pain has shown serious changes in the brain in the past. The pain signals can be carried in the presence of an injury, or they could travel without any damage too.
There’s no stopping such a phenomenon from occurring. A recent study has shown that chronic pain was just like anxiety when talking about biological mechanisms.
This gives a hint that chronic pain is much more complicated and risky for the mental health of a person than it ever was previously.
“It was surprising to us that chronic pain rewires the part of the brain controlling whether you feel happy or sad,” said James Surmeier, chair of physiology at Feinberg and an author of the study, in the press release. ”
By understanding what was causing these changes, we were able to design a corrective therapy that worked remarkably well in the models. The question now is whether it will work in humans.”
“The study shows you can think of chronic pain as the brain getting addicted to pain,” said A. Vania Apkarian, also a corresponding author and a professor of physiology at Feinberg. “The brain circuit that has to do with addiction has gotten involved in the pain process itself.”
Nucleus accumbens is the brain region located in our basal forebrain, which is responsible for handling the bundle of neurons floating to this area whenever we engage in a pleasurable activity, making the region get flooded with the chemical called dopamine.
Among them, the groups of neurons that are responsible for negative emotions get hyper-excited and trigger chronic pain. So, the drugs work in this region to prevent the mechanisms leading to the pain.
The analysts likewise found that infusing rats with pramipexole, another Parkinson’s medication that builds dopamine generation, diminished chronic pain indications. A blend of both anti-inflammatory and dopamine-initiating drugs would be best, they deduce.
So, it is possible that drugs used for treating Parkinson’s disease may help people suffering from chronic pain as well.